The Next Billion Users coming online around the world have different contexts and are using technology in a manner different from the developers creating it. Google’s NBU initiative creates apps and services that are tailored to those users. Its latest project is a report on how to build a “more representative internet.”
Over the course of a year Google conducted 363 interviews and 3,618 surveys in seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The goal was to understand why the “internet isn’t gender equitable,” with “fewer women online than men in two-thirds of countries worldwide.”
The Towards Gender Equity Online report looks at access, content & community, privacy, and safety areas that need to be “addressed to move us toward a more representative internet.”
One particularly interesting finding from the report was how many women share devices. For example, to truly mask browsing on a video service, these users will not only delete search history, but load a handful of more results to obscure recommendations. For its part, Google’s apps have added privacy features in light of this research.
The Neighbourly team built additional privacy features into the app experience, like preventing profile photos from being enlarged or copied through screenshot, not allowing one-on-one direct messaging and only sharing the account owner’s first name.
The full report lays out arguments on how to get support for gender equity initiatives within a company, and what product steps to take.
Many women in our research have limited agency, mobility, and time to access the Internet. The Internet is sometimes perceived as a threat to women’s roles and reputations. Accessing the Internet in low-connectivity regions often requires travel, but physical mobility can be constrained for women. Women with significant domestic responsibilities say they have little free time to spend online.
Content & Community
The Internet is full of content and communities—blogs, videos, social media conversations, and more. But women often struggle to find relevant content or supportive communities online. The expectation of harassment and misogyny leads to less content creation by women. And even when content does exist, it can be hard to find because recommendation algorithms are often trained on male-majority data.
Organizations commonly think of privacy as the management of online identity. Women often share their devices with friends and family and need to create privacy practices that allow them to share those devices comfortably. For example, women use app locks or delete their search history. And while many online experiences require personal information like name and phone number, women are often uncomfortable disclosing this information.
New technologies can improve the lives of women by giving them the tools they need to stay connected. But these tools can also create safety concerns. Women frequently experience online abuse like cyberstalking, impersonation, and personal content leaks. Consequences of online abuse can be severe, leading to real-world repercussions like reputation damage and physical violence. Physical harassment is a significant problem, especially in public spaces. Women rarely report abuse to online platforms or authorities. Instead they limit participation online and turn to family members for support.