Web Index: Malaysia ranked 37th overall, poor rating in openness

  • Scandinavian countries top annual rankings, US and UK criticised for inadequate privacy protections
  • Some governments feel threatened, leading to a growing tide of surveillance and censorship

Web Index: Malaysia ranked 37th overall, poor rating in openness MALAYSIA ranked a respectable No 37 in the annual Web Index which looks at how the Web empowers people and delivers socio-economic impact, but fared poorly in terms of whether it offered ‘free and open’ access.
At No 62 on the ‘Free and Open’ sub-index of the overall study, Malaysia still fared better than its closest neighbour Singapore (70), but was well below Indonesia’s 48th ranking.

The 'Freedom and Openness' questions assessed the extent to which citizens enjoy rights to information, opinion, expression, safety and privacy online.
While Malaysia scores relatively well in terms of low censorship and blocking of online content, its scores are average to poor across the secondary indicators on press freedom, political rights and participation.

In addition, Malaysia scored poorly in terms of the legal and regulatory framework for protecting personal data and the presence of safeguards for the privacy of electronic communications.

Malaysia's status as an upper middle-income country places it within the ‘emerging’ nation category. At No 37, it is 6th among the emerging countries, just one rank lower than South Africa and seven ranks lower than Mexico (the top performing emerging country), according to the Foundation.

Overall, Singapore scored the highest amongst the Asean countries, rated at No 31 globally, while Indonesia was at No 48.
In terms of delivering universal access, Malaysia ranked fairly high too, at 36, as it did in terms of providing relevant content (32) and empowerment (21).
Singapore ranked extremely high in terms of delivering universal access (5), relevant content (14) and empowerment (35). In those same sub-indices, Indonesia scored 57, 46 and 53 respectively, while Thailand (ranked 46 overall) scored 40, 52, 39 in terms of universal access, relevant content and empowerment respectively.
The Philippines, just below Malaysia in terms of overall ranking at No 38, was ranked 48th in terms of universal access, 42nd in terms of relevant content and 38th in terms of empowerment. It scored a very respectable 44 in terms of providing free and open access.

The annual Web Index , which this year expanded to cover 81 countries including Malaysia for the first time, is conducted by World Wide Web Foundation that was established by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web.
The Index would allow citizens, governments and civil society to understand the use and impact of the Web in their countries, how it compares with global and regional counterparts, and how best to harness it for future social and economic benefit, the Foundation said.
Increasing divide, scary surveillance
Sweden topped the Web Index (thewebindex.org) country rankings for 2013 ahead of Norway, but along with many other countries including the United Kingdom and the United States, its leading record in Web innovation could be at risk from excessive state surveillance, the Foundation said in a statement.
The Web Index Report reveals that beyond the digital divide, the world faces a growing ‘participation divide,’ as unequal access to knowledge and speech online denies millions the necessary tools for free and informed participation in democracy, it said.
Wealthier groups in most countries are increasingly using the Web and social media to gain knowledge and amplify their voice in public debate, the research suggests. However, groups such as low-paid workers, smallholder farmers, and women in the developing world are much less likely to be able to access vital information online.
Democratisation of information and communication flows is further constrained by a global trend towards greater online censorship and surveillance, the report warns.
“One of the most encouraging findings of this year’s Web Index is how the Web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organise, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world,” Berners-Lee said.
“But some governments are threatened by this, and a growing tide of surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy. Bold steps are needed now to protect our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and association online,” he added.
Key findings from the Web Index 2013 include:

  • Targeted censorship of Web content by governments is widespread across the globe: Moderate to extensive blocking or filtering of politically sensitive content was reported in over 30% of Web Index countries during the past year.
  • Legal limits on government snooping online urgently need review: 94% of countries in the Web Index do not meet best practice standards for checks and balances on government interception of electronic communications.
  • The Web and social media are leading to real-world change: In 80% of the countries studied, the Web and social media had played a role in public mobilisation in the past year, and in half of these cases, had been a major catalyst.
  • Rich countries do not necessarily rank highly in the Web Index: The Philippines, with a per capita income of US$4,410 per year, is more than 10 places ahead of Qatar, the world’s richest country, with an average income over 20 times greater than the Philippines. Saudi Arabia is outperformed by 10 of the sub-Saharan African countries in the Index. Switzerland, the world’s third wealthiest nation, is only one place ahead of Estonia. The study shows that once countries surpass a GDP threshold of US$12,000 per capita, the link between wealth and Web Index rank weakens significantly.
  • The rights and priorities of women are poorly served by the Web in the majority of countries researched: Locally relevant information on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence, and inheritance remain largely absent from the Web in most countries. Only 56% of Web Index countries were assessed as allocating ‘significant’ resources to ICT training programmes targeting women and men equally. 

“Ten years after world leaders committed to harnessing technology to build an inclusive information society, parents in 48% of countries can’t use the Web to compare school performance and budgets, women in over 60% of countries can’t use the Web to help them make informed choices about their bodies, and over half the population in developing countries can’t use the Web at all,” said the Foundation’s chief executive officer Anne Jellema.
“Countries should accelerate action to make the Web affordable, accessible and relevant to all groups in society, as they promised at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003,” she added.
First-placed Sweden has achieved the highest penetration of broadband among OECD countries, and near universal wireless adoption. It is now reaping the benefits of policy decisions taken as early as 2000, when its pathbreaking ‘Information Society for All’ law established that broadband service should be considered a utility and every citizen should have access to it.
Norway, where 95% of people are online, is placed second in the 2013 Index driven by strong achievement across all dimensions of the Index and its top-scoring performance on measures of freedom and openness.
The United Kingdom, despite falling down on privacy rights, is placed third overall in the Index, propelled by its high scores on availability of relevant content and political impact.
The United States, the best performer in 2013 on use of the Web for social, political, environmental and economic empowerment through the Web, received mediocre scores on Internet access, communications infrastructure, and lack of adequate safeguards to protect users’ privacy from extensive electronic surveillance.
New Zealand broke into the top five following improvements to its communications infrastructure and the availability of relevant content, the Foundation said.
Amongst emerging nations, Mexico achieved the highest overall position in the Web Index 2013, followed by Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica and South Africa.
The Philippines was the developing country that achieved the highest overall ranking in the Web Index 2013, with high scores on Web use and measurements of people using the Internet and social networks compared to other developing countries.
However, except for Morocco (ranked 54th overall in the Index), none of the developing countries in the Web Index have achieved the UN World Summit on the Information Society target of connecting at least 50% of their populations, and in Africa, fewer than one in five people are using the Internet.
Full data from the Web Index are being unveiled to an audience in London today (Nov 22) by Berners-Lee and Jellema; as well as Lily Cole, the actor and founder of the social network, Impossible; Bright Simons, the founder of the mPedigree Network; Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia; and Rebecca MacKinnon, the cofounder of Global Voices Online.

To download a PDF of the report, click here.
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