Britons are spending more time online than ever – estimated at around 50 days a year – yet they are increasingly concerned about the risks posed by the internet and support tighter regulation of social media sites, a new study has revealed.

According to media regulator Ofcom, which worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office to produce the Online Nation report, the average British adult spent three hours and 15 minutes a day online last year.

That was up 11 minutes from 2017, amounting to 1,192 hours or 50 days over the year, while three-quarters (75%) of people’s total time online was on mobile devices.

More than a third (35%) of the total time spent online was on sites owned by Google or Facebook. For example, around nine in ten internet users visit YouTube every month, spending an average of 27 minutes a day on the site, while a similar proportion visit Facebook, spending an average of 23 minutes a day there.

However, trust in how online providers protect users’ data varies considerably, with public trust highest for BBC News (67%) and Amazon (66%), but much lower for Facebook (31%) and YouTube (34%).

And after another year of damaging headlines about how some companies have used personal information, there has been a marked increase in the number of people who are worried about using the internet.

The proportion of those concerned has jumped from 58% to 78% in a year, with 61% of adults reporting they had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year, rising to 79% among children aged 12 to 15.

The potential online harms most commonly encountered by adults in the past year were unsolicited emails (34%), fake news (25%) and scams or fraud (22%).

Adult users also cited Facebook (28%), Instagram (16%) and Twitter (12%) as the leading sources of potentially harmful experiences.

Among children, 39% experienced offensive language online, 28% had received unwelcome friend requests, 23% encountered cyber-bullying and 20% had encountered trolling.

And although most adults (59%) agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks, as many as 70% say they would welcome tighter rules for social media sites, up from 52% in 2018. About two-thirds say the same about video-sharing sites (64%) and messaging services (61%).

“As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content – and also more likely to come across it,” said Yih-Choung Teh, group director of strategy and research at Ofcom.

“For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet,” he added. “And while most internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”

Sourced from Ofcom; additional content by WARC staff