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The digital divide among the elderly: Research insights from Cyprus

Living in a transitional era of digital transformation, the gaps in digital skills among different groups of people is a great concern at a practical and policy level in all countries. This article brings some insights from the Cyprus elder society on the use of the internet and the extent to which they feel competent to digitise their daily practices, with regard to online payments and purchases. The results presented below are derived from qualitative data from 10 interviews with people over 65 years old in Cyprus. Questions were formulated in a semi-structured interview guide to allow in-depth discussions on their everyday life issues related to the project areas. Using this approach, respondents were also encouraged to reflect on their past experiences, opinions and suggestions on topics such as internet use, online purchases and payments, and data protection.

Use of the internet

The vast majority of the interviewees were frequent users of the internet. They usually access the web from their smartphones, and they generally evaluate themselves as competent enough for the limited range of online activities they usually do. However, as shown by their answers later, although aware of some online functions and threats, they could not clearly state any techniques or methods to protect themselves. Sometimes they were also confused about distinguishing between online or offline functions of their smartphones, and other basic knowledge considering internet activities.

Online purchases

Half of the interviewees have never made any online purchases alone, although most of them asked for help from children or friends more than once to buy (or pay) something online. Although not competent to initiate online purchases, they referred to many categories of goods and services they were interested in buying if they were able to. Some indicative examples of goods and services are clothes, shoes, kitchen or garden products, books, small electrical devices, tickets for events, or flights. Participants admitted that they do not have the digital skills to make online purchases. However, they did not show any intent to acquire them supported by arguments such as their preference to buy products in person, the fact that they simply do not need to, and in other cases because of online risks (e.g., of delivery, of trust and reliability, of online threats during payments). Those who were completely indifferent to these topics described autonomous online payments as a very far-fetched scenario. In most of the cases, the price was not generally perceived as a motive because differences are practically minor. Therefore, the biggest concern was about the reliability and quality of the delivered product. There were also some misconceptions stated during the interviews such as ‘all online retailers are probably valid’, or ‘frauds are coming from third-world countries and not from European websites.

Online payments and transactions

Interestingly, respondents presented a particular interest in making online payments and managing relevant financial services. They recognized the benefits of paying off their obligations through the internet rather than the old way. Four out of ten were not competent in making such payments, but they are willing to learn. Only one participant stated that she does not have any essential reason to make online payments and prefers to avoid further internet activities because of regular threats. Adding to this, more than one participant noted that they prefer to limit their online payments to the most essential activities and serious reasons (e.g., internet banking to monitor accounts, car insurance and registration, taxes, and utility bills). In general, they were all aware of online frauds and threats but only a few of them appeared confident to control and avoid them. They also admitted that sometimes they fear making any mistakes and expressed suspicion about the safety provided during payments. In all cases, they were not able to categorise or name any of those threats. Those who feel more competent to make online transactions (four out of ten) expanded more on methods to manage risks and referred to several security measures (PINs, OTPs, verification codes, passwords etc.).

Data protection

Regarding data protection, most of them admitted that they are not competent to manage privacy, therefore they were all hesitant on providing personal information online. They could not refer to any regulations that secure their personal data (e.g., GDPR) or other techniques from websites to obtain them (e.g., cookies). In addition, they were not able to identify the reasons why websites track our online activity and ‘force’ us to accept their terms and conditions. Only a few of them referred to misleading information and marketing purposes. They also appeared ambivalent about the intentions of websites and the privacy policies they declare. Therefore, they generally limit their activity (e.g., the number of visiting websites) to reduce risks. Moreover, half of them have accounts in one or more social media (mostly Facebook or Twitter), but only two of them thoroughly stated security measures to protect their accounts such as saving passwords and authentication controls.

The research was held as part of the e-Protect project, which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Commission (Project Number: 2020-1-CY01-KA204-065949). The full report of the research can be found here. The data are available upon request. To stay updated about the developments of the project you can follow the project’s Facebook page (@eProtectprojectEU).


Note. This article retrieves parts from the National Research Report (Cyprus) produced for the purposes of the e-Protect project. CARDET and INNOVADE are responsible for editing, designing, and content contribution of the referred report.


Read the full article here.