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Public Opinion toward Internet Freedom in Asia: A Survey of Internet Users from 11 Jurisdictions


This paper, which is being released as part of the Berkman publications series in conjunction with the Digital Asia Hub, summarizes the findings from a survey of Asian Internet users. The purpose of the study is to understand the public opinion toward issues related to Internet freedom in Asia. This report provides a basic overview of the opinions and behaviors on a number of topics related to Internet freedom, including but not limited to Internet censorship and the adoption and use of circumvention, anonymization, and encryption tools.

Key findings of this paper include:

  • There is robust and strong support for Internet freedom in Asia. About 78% of respondents agree that freedom of expression on the Internet needs to be protected, and nearly 90% consider access to the Internet a basic human right.
  • The robust support for freedom of expression online is accompanied by almost equally strong support for Internet censorship. More than two thirds of respondents agree that some form of censorship is needed on the Internet: 19.4% express strong agreement and 54.5% express agreement.
  • Nevertheless, respondents disagree on whether it is desirable to censor religiously offensive and political content. A majority agree it is necessary to censor pornography, gambling, and copyright infringing content. While respondents disagree on what content should be censored, a large majority strongly agree that censorship rules and decisions should be made public and transparent (74.1%).
  • Internet users in Asia, when asked whom they trust most to manage the global Internet, are more likely to choose software or search engine companies (e.g. Microsoft, Google) (33%) and the multi-stakeholder model (29%) than other options (e.g., local or national government, telecommunication companies, etc.).
  • On average, 71% of respondents believe online censorship currently exists in their respective jurisdictions. About a quarter of respondents report having used circumvention (23.5%), anonymization (25.0%), and encryption tools (26.7%) to access censored or blocked information online.  
  • It is important to note that cross-country variation is substantial in Asia. Respondents in Japan and Korea express low to moderate support for Internet freedom, low support for Internet censorship, low volume of circumvention and anonymization technology use, low privacy protection behavior, and low levels of online censorship. In contrast, respondents in India and Vietnam show an opposite pattern. Respondents in Singapore and Thailand are in the “moderate” group. In both Hong Kong and Malaysia, people are more supportive of Internet freedom than censorship, and they adopt many non-technical (but not technical) privacy protection measures. Indonesia, Pakistan, and Taiwan comprise the last group: in all three jurisdictions, respondents indicate high levels of support for Internet censorship but relatively low levels of support for Internet freedom.

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The Digital Asia Hub is an independent, non-profit Internet and society research think tank based in Hong Kong.