Internet Research

Issue(s) available: 163 – From Volume: 1 Issue: 1 , to Volume: 34 Issue: 7

Cover of Internet Research

  • Issue 7 2024 Open Access Issue in Progress
  • Issue 1 2024 The Opportunities and Challenges in the Metaverse
  • Issue 7 2023 Open Access Issue
  • Issue 6 2023
  • Issue 5 2023 The social, ethical, economic, and political implications of misinformation
  • Issue 4 2023
  • Issue 3 2023
  • Issue 2 2023
  • Issue 1 2023
  • Issue 7 2022 Open Access Issue
  • Issue 6 2022
  • Issue 5 2022
  • Issue 4 2022
  • Issue 3 2022
  • Issue 2 2022 Interpretable AI-enabled Online Behavior Analytics
  • Issue 1 2022
  • Issue 6 2021 The Bright Side and the Dark Side of Digital Health
  • Issue 5 2021
  • Issue 4 2021
  • Issue 3 2021
  • Issue 2 2021
  • Issue 1 2021
  • Issue 6 2020
  • Issue 5 2020
  • Issue 4 2020
  • Issue 3 2020
  • Issue 2 2020
  • Issue 1 2020
  • Issue 6 2019
  • Issue 5 2019 The Sharing Economy: Promises and Challenges
  • Issue 4 2019
  • Issue 3 2019 Internet research using partial least squares
  • Issue 2 2019 Online and mobile gaming
  • Issue 1 2019
  • Issue 5 2018 The Dark Side of Social Media
  • Issue 4 2018
  • Issue 3 2018
  • Issue 2 2018
  • Issue 1 2018
  • Issue 5 2017
  • Issue 4 2017
  • Issue 3 2017
  • Issue 2 2017
  • Issue 1 2017
  • Issue 5 2016
  • Issue 4 2016
  • Issue 3 2016
  • Issue 2 2016 Internet of Things
  • Issue 1 2016
  • Issue 5 2015
  • Issue 4 2015
  • Issue 3 2015
  • Issue 2 2015
  • Issue 1 2015
  • Issue 5 2014
  • Issue 4 2014
  • Issue 3 2014
  • Issue 2 2014
  • Issue 1 2014
  • Issue 5 2013 The power of prediction with social media
  • Issue 4 2013
  • Issue 3 2013
  • Issue 2 2013
  • Issue 1 2013
  • Issue 5 2012
  • Issue 4 2012
  • Issue 3 2012
  • Issue 2 2012
  • Issue 1 2012
  • Issue 5 2011
  • Issue 4 2011
  • Issue 3 2011
  • Issue 2 2011
  • Issue 1 2011
  • Issue 5 2010
  • Issue 4 2010 Internet Research 20th Anniversary Commemorative Issue
  • Issue 3 2010 Intelligent eservices applied to B2C ecommerce
  • Issue 2 2010
  • Issue 1 2010
  • Issue 5 2009
  • Issue 4 2009
  • Issue 3 2009
  • Issue 2 2009 Intelligent ubiquitous computing applications and security issues
  • Issue 1 2009
  • Issue 5 2008
  • Issue 4 2008
  • Issue 3 2008
  • Issue 2 2008 Information credibility on the web
  • Issue 1 2008
  • Issue 5 2007 Selected research papers from the TERENA networking conference 2007
  • Issue 4 2007
  • Issue 3 2007
  • Issue 2 2007
  • Issue 1 2007 The Sixth International Network Conference INC, 2006
  • Issue 5 2006 Apartthemed issue on internet security
  • Issue 4 2006
  • Issue 3 2006
  • Issue 2 2006 Privacy and anonymity in the digital era
  • Issue 1 2006
  • Issue 5 2005
  • Issue 4 2005
  • Issue 3 2005
  • Issue 2 2005
  • Issue 1 2005
  • Issue 5 2004
  • Issue 4 2004
  • Issue 3 2004
  • Issue 2 2004
  • Issue 1 2004
  • Issue 5 2003
  • Issue 4 2003
  • Issue 3 2003
  • Issue 2 2003
  • Issue 1 2003
  • Issue 5 2002
  • Issue 4 2002
  • Issue 3 2002
  • Issue 2 2002
  • Issue 1 2002
  • Issue 5 2001
  • Issue 4 2001
  • Issue 3 2001
  • Issue 2 2001
  • Issue 1 2001
  • Issue 5 2000
  • Issue 4 2000
  • Issue 3 2000
  • Issue 2 2000
  • Issue 1 2000
  • Issue 5 1999
  • Issue 4 1999
  • Issue 3 1999
  • Issue 2 1999
  • Issue 1 1999
  • Issue 5 1998
  • Issue 4 1998
  • Issue 3 1998
  • Issue 2 1998
  • Issue 1 1998
  • Issue 4 1997
  • Issue 3 1997
  • Issue 2 1997
  • Issue 1 1997
  • Issue 4 1996
  • Issue 2/3 1996
  • Issue 1 1996
  • Issue 4 1995
  • Issue 3 1995
  • Issue 2 1995
  • Issue 1 1995
  • Issue 4 1994
  • Issue 3 1994
  • Issue 1 1994
  • Issue 4 1993
  • Issue 3 1993
  • Issue 2 1993
  • Issue 1 1993
  • Issue 4 1992
  • Issue 3 1992
  • Issue 2 1992
  • Issue 1 1992
  • Issue 2 1991
  • Issue 1 1991

Service quality in cloud gaming: instrument development and validation

The global market for cloud gaming is growing rapidly. How gamers evaluate the service quality of this emerging form of cloud service has become a critical issue for both…

How tie strength influences purchasing intention in social recommendation: evidence from behavioral model and brain activity

Social recommendation has been recognized as a kind of e-commerce with large potential, but how social recommendations influence consumer decisions is still unclear. This paper…

Building bonds: an examination of relational bonding in continuous content contribution behaviors on metaverse-based non-fungible token platforms

The proliferation of non-fungible token (NFT)-based crypto-art platforms has transformed how creators manage, own and earn money through the creation, assets and identity of their…

A meta-analysis of antecedents and consequences of trust in the sharing economy

Trust plays a crucial role in overcoming uncertainty and reducing risks. Uncovering the trust mechanism in the sharing economy may enable sharing platforms to design more…

Longitudinal relationship between parental and adolescent smartphone addiction: serial mediating effects of adolescent self-esteem and depression

This study longitudinally investigated the predictors and mediators of adolescent smartphone addiction by examining the impact of parental smartphone addiction at T1 on adolescent…

Understanding users' voice assistant exploration intention: unraveling the differential mechanisms of the multiple dimensions of perceived intelligence

The purpose of this study is to develop a framework for the perceived intelligence of VAs and explore the mechanisms of different dimensions of the perceived intelligence of VAs…

Moment or movement – the heterogeneous impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on personal and societal charitable crowdfunding campaigns

Whenever social injustice tackled by social movements receives heightened media attention, charitable crowdfunding platforms offer an opportunity to proactively advocate for…

Consumer vulnerability: understanding transparency and control in the online environment

In the online environment, consumers increasingly feel vulnerable due to firms’ expanding capabilities of collecting and using their data in an unsanctioned manner. Drawing from…

How does social media use in the workplace affect employee voice? Uncovering the mediation effects of social identity and contingency role of job-social media fit

Employee voice is crucial for organizations to identify problems and make timely adjustments. However, promoting voice in organizations is challenging. This study aims to…

Generativity of enterprise IT infrastructure for digital innovation

Digital innovation requires organizations to reconfigure their information technology infrastructure (ITI) to cultivate creativity and implement fast experimentation. This…

Motivational profile and knowledge creation in eSports: examining the roles of mutualistic co-presence

Research on knowledge creation within eSports learning is scarce. This study extends the understanding of competition-oriented collaborative learning in eSports by examining the…

Effect of consistency of the review set on causal attribution: the moderating roles of repeating purchase cues and product knowledge

The study examines the potential moderating effects of repeating purchase cues and product knowledge on the relationship between the varying consistency of the review set and…

A mixed-methods investigation of the factors affecting the use of facial recognition as a threatening AI application

Artificial intelligence (AI) applications pose a potential threat to users' data security and privacy due to their high data-dependence nature. This paper aims to investigate an…

Gaining customer engagement in social media recovery: the moderating roles of timeliness and personalization

This research investigates the role of customer forgiveness as the result of online service recovery transparency in predicting customer engagement. It also examines the…

Factors influencing TikTok-based user purchase intention: comparison between potential customers and repeat customers

The purpose of this paper is to examine how different types of user experience in TikTok impact purchase intention via commitment to the influencer and commitment to the platform…

What enhances or worsens the user-generated metaverse experience? An application of BERTopic to Roblox user eWOM

Given its growing economic potential and social impact, this study aims to understand the motivations and concerns regarding metaverse usage. It identifies user needs and risks…

How social media fatigue feigning and altering emotion discourage the use of social media

Social media fatigue (SMF) has been widely recognized; however, previous studies have included various concepts into a single fatigue construct. Fatigue has typically been…

Motivation for writing long online reviews: a big data analysis of an anime community

Based on self-determination theory (SDT), this study aims to determine the motivation factors of reviewers writing long reviews in the anime industry.

A dual-process model to explain self-disclosure on online social networking sites: examining the moderating effect of enjoyment

Researchers continue to address the concept of self-disclosure because it is foundational for helping social networking sites (SNS) function and thrive. Nevertheless, the authors'…

Herd behavior in social commerce: understanding the interplay between self-awareness and environment-awareness

This study investigates how individuals' self-awareness (specifically, private and public self-awareness) and environment-awareness (perceived expertise, similarity and…

Social media as a living laboratory for researchers: the relationship between linguistics and online user responses

Today, individuals use social media to express their opinions and feelings, which offers a living laboratory to researchers in various fields, such as management, innovation…

Wealth effects of firm's strategic technology investments: evidence from Ethereum blockchain

Ethereum-based blockchain technology (EBT) affords members of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) a market advantage in deploying blockchain within their organizations…

Effect of the fit between situational regulatory focus and feedback focus on customers' co-design behavior

Customers' co-design behavior is an important source of knowledge for product innovation. Firms can regulate the focus of information interaction with customers to set goals and…

Fake news detection using machine learning: an adversarial collaboration approach

Purveyors of fake news perpetuate information that can harm society, including businesses. Social media's reach quickly amplifies distortions of fake news. Research has not yet…

ICT-based training and education in volunteer sports communities: an action design research project with soccer referees during the COVID-19 pandemic

The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the beliefs and attitudes toward the use of information and communication technology (ICT). The…

Performance implications of match between social media–enabled interactions and contracts in interfirm governance

Integrating transaction costs economics and task-technology fit theory, this study distinguishes two categories of social media–enabled interactions, namely task-related…

Value creation for online collaboration between doctors and medical institutions: empirical evidence from online health communities

Doctor–medical institution collaboration (DMIC) services are an emerging service mode in focal online health communities (OHCs). This new service mode is anticipated to affect…

Reexamining review variance and movie sales: the inverted-U-shaped relationship and boundary conditions

This study is based on the heuristic-systematic model (HSM) to dynamically examine the effect of review variance on sales and the boundary conditions that mitigate this effect.

The impact of streamer emotions on viewer gifting behavior: evidence from entertainment live streaming

The boom in live streaming has intensified competition among streamers for viewers' gifts, which makes it meaningful to study the factors that affect the viewers’ gifting…

Using machine learning to investigate consumers' emotions: the spillover effect of AI defeating people on consumers' attitudes toward AI companies

The purpose of this study is to investigate consumers' emotional responses to artificial intelligence (AI) defeating people. Meanwhile, the authors investigate the negative…

Learning for success: understanding crowdfunding relaunch performance after initial failures

Fierce competition in the crowdfunding market has resulted in high failure rates. Owing to their dedication and efforts, many founders have relaunched failed campaigns as a…

Why retail firms commonly get only halfway through channel integration with online channels

This paper aims to examine why retail firms seldom achieve full integration of online and offline channels as prescribed in omni-channel literature. It examines the intermediate…

Loyalty and well-being explain serial crowdfunding backing behavior: an empirical test of complementary theories

Despite the critical contribution of serial backers in advancing crowdfunding volumes, few studies have addressed the phenomenon of serial backing. Research on the motivations of…

The effect of social commerce attributes on customer engagement: an empirical investigation

Social commerce (s-commerce) offers community-based platforms that facilitate customer-to-customer interactions and the development of customers' social shopping-based experience…

Revisiting the social commerce paradigm: the social commerce (SC) framework and a research agenda

Social commerce (SC) is a new genre in electronic commerce (e-commerce) that has great potential. This study proposes a new research framework to address deficiencies in existing…

Disentangling the antecedents of rational versus emotional negative electronic word of mouth on a peer-to-peer accommodation platform

Although extant studies have investigated the antecedents of negative electronic word of mouth (eWOM), they treated it as a unidimensional concept without classification. To…

Enterprise social media usage and social cyberloafing: an empirical investigation using the JD-R model

One of the most important challenges confronting enterprise managers is that of controlling employees' social cyberloafing. The use of enterprise social media entails…

Friend-connecting affordances: playing online games to contact friends

Online games are popular applications of Internet technology, with over 2.8 billion users worldwide. Many players engage in team gameplay, indicating that online games are…

Bringing safety analytics to the online shopper: evaluating designs for augmenting point-of-sale interfaces with safety information

The widespread adoption of online purchasing has prompted increasing concerns about product safety, and regulators are beginning to hold e-commerce sites accountable for dangerous…

Public information sharing in enterprise social networks: a communication privacy management perspective

The advancement of enterprise social networks (ESNs) facilitates information sharing but also presents the challenge of managing information boundaries. This study aims to explore…

Understanding the role of information transparency in improving patient experience under different uncertainties: a quasi-natural experiment

Waiting time, as an important predictor of queue abandonment and patient satisfaction, is important for resource utilization and patient experience management. Medical…

Affect and information technology use: the impact of state affect on cognitions and IT use

This paper investigates the dynamics between state affect and trusting cognitive beliefs on post-adoptive information technology (IT) use behaviors in the form of intention to…

Tap here to power up! Mobile augmented reality for consumer empowerment

The present study aims to propose a framework elucidating the attributes of mobile augmented reality (AR) shopping apps (i.e., spatial presence, perceived personalization and…

Short video marketing: what, when and how short-branded videos facilitate consumer engagement

This study explores whether and how four main factors of short-branded video content (content matching, information relevance, storytelling and emotionality) facilitate consumer…

Effects of member similarity on group norm conformity, group identity and social participation in the context of social networking sites

Facilitating members' continual participation in a community is crucial for ensuring the community's long-term survival. However, knowledge regarding whether member similarity is…

IT investment and corporate collaborative innovation: the moderating role of the top management team's educational background and absorptive capacity

Previous studies have shown that the application of information technology (IT) can help break through the innovation boundaries of firms and has undoubtedly become a key enabler…

Do human values find genuine expression on social media platforms? The influence of human values on millennials' social media activities

Social media has the potential to enable exchange of diverse opinions, foster dialogue on important social issues and exert positive influence on stakeholders and society…

Understanding employees' perceptions of SETA events: the role of pedagogical and communication approaches

Security education, training and awareness (SETA) programs are the key to addressing “people problems” in information systems (IS) security. Contrary to studies using conventional…

How intergroup counter-empathy drives media consumption and engagement

Social media is replete with malicious and unempathetic rhetoric yet few studies explain why these emotions are publicly dispersed. The purpose of the study is to investigate how…

It pays to be forthcoming: timing of data breach announcement, trust violation, and trust restoration

This research examines the relationship between the timeliness in announcing the discovery of a data breach and consumer trust in an e-commerce company, as well as later…

Disentangling the relationship between omnichannel integration and customer trust: a response surface analysis

This study aims to examine whether customer trust is influenced by the congruence and incongruence between customers' perceptions of two types of omnichannel integration—perceived…

Wear in or wear out: how consumers respond to repetitive influencer marketing

Endorsement marketing has been widely used to generate consumer attention, interest and purchase decisions among targeted audiences. Internet celebrities who become famous on the…

The coping strategies in fitness apps: a three-stage analysis with findings from SEM and FsQCA

Combining the coping theory and social support theory, this study aims to reveal users' coping strategies for mobile fitness app (MFA) engagement and fitness intentions with a…

Organizational mission and digital platform evolution: an investigation of entrepreneurial organizations in nascent markets

Although digital platforms have become important to organizations and society, little is known about how platforms evolve over time. This is particularly true for early-stage…

Mind over matter: how biased perceptions of political knowledge influence selection and evaluation of political YouTube channels

In the face of increasing political polarization worldwide, this study explores whether people create biased perceptions of political knowledge and how this affects their…

The effects of social media use and consumer engagement on physician online return: evidence from Weibo

Social media facilitates the communication and the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients. However, limited research has examined the role of social media in a…

Determinants of debunking information sharing behaviour in social media users: perspective of persuasive cues

Sharing and disseminating debunking information are critical to correcting rumours and controlling disease when dealing with public health crises. This study investigates the…

An empirical examination of newcomer contribution costs in established OSS communities: a knowledge-based perspective

To remain sustainable, open source software (OSS) projects must attract new members—or newcomers—who make contributions. In this paper, the authors develop a set of hypotheses…

Fighting fire with fire: the use of an auxiliary platform to address the inherent weaknesses of a platform-based business

The success of sharing economy (SE) platforms has made it attractive for many firms to adopt this business model. However, the inherent weaknesses of these platforms, such as…

Examining user-generated content, service failure recovery and customer–brand relationships: an exploration through commitment-trust theory

User-generated content (UGC) and service failure have attracted considerable marketing inquiry over the last two decades. Previous studies primarily focused on the outcome of…

Developing future managers through business simulation gaming in the UK and Hong Kong: exploring the interplay between cognitive realism, decision-making and performance

This paper investigates how individuals' decision-making approach and perceptions of a game's cognitive realism affect the performance of virtual businesses in a web-based…

The role of vicarious learning strategies in shaping consumers' uncertainty: the case of live-streaming shopping

This article seeks to understand how live-streaming technology (i.e. interactivity and effective use of live-streaming shopping’s information presentation tool) impacts consumers’…

The influence of virtual reality on the experience of religious cultural heritage content

The purpose of this study is to expand the experience economy model and to determine if this model provides a better understanding of the process of growing intention to continue…

Competitive peer influence on knowledge contribution behaviors in online Q&A communities: a social comparison perspective

Users' knowledge contribution behaviors are critical for online Q&A communities to thrive. Well-organized question threads in online Q&A communities enable users to clearly read…

Parasocial relationships with micro-influencers: do sponsorship disclosure and electronic word-of-mouth disrupt?

This study aims to examine whether and how the effect of intimate relationships with micro-influencers on customer behaviour is interrupted by external cues such as sponsorship…

The influence of technology affordance on addictive use in MMOGs: from the perspective of virtual-domain perfectionism

The rise and popularity of digitalization have made the addictive use in the virtual world more common, which has aroused wide attention from academia and public. Uncovering the…

Small businesses and e-government participation: the role of personalisation preference and intermediaries

Advances in technology have given rise to an increased demand by small businesses for personalised e-government services. Given the importance of small businesses to the…

Hue, brightness, saturation, and caption description: which attributes impact listing preferences on digital accommodation platforms?

Images and caption descriptions serve as important visual stimuli that influence consumer preferences; therefore, the current study focuses on property images and captions…

Leading for employees' enterprise system ambidextrous use through contextual ambidexterity: the mediating role of user empowerment and moderating role of leader–member exchange

This study aims to develop a cross-level research model to explore the relationship between team-level contextual ambidexterity and employees' enterprise system (ES) ambidextrous…

More than two decades of research on IoT in agriculture: a systematic literature review

Agriculture is one sector where the Internet of things (IoT) is expected to make a major impact. Yet, its adoption in the sector falls behind expectations. The purpose of this…

How does material adaptivity of smart objects shape infusion use? The pivot role of social embeddedness

Advances in material agency driven by artificial intelligence (AI) have facilitated breakthroughs in material adaptivity enabling smart objects to autonomously provide…

The effect of the motion attributes of spokes-characters on app launch pages on brand memory

The use of brand slogans that represent brand concepts on app launch pages can improve user brand impressions. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of using…

An investigation on the influencing factors of elderly people's intention to use financial AI customer service

With the great changes brought by information technology, there is also a challenge for the elderly's acceptance. This study aimed to determine the antecedents of elderly people's…

Effects of social media usage on exploratory innovation, exploitative innovation and organizational agility: the moderating role of learning goal orientation

The purpose of this study is to examine the underlying mechanisms of exploitative innovation and exploratory innovation between social media usage and organizational agility, and…

The impacts of within-task and between-task personal Internet usage on employee creative performance: the moderating role of perceived organisational support

Employees' personal Internet usage (PIU) has become increasingly common at work. It is important for both researchers and managers to understand how PIU affects employee creative…

The value of time together: a longitudinal investigation of mentor-protégé interactions in an online game

The study aims to determine the outcomes of mentorship in an online game system, as well as the characteristics of good mentors.

Cognition or interaction? Mediating factors influencing online group open collaboration

Online collaboration in today's world is a topic of genuine interest to Internet researchers. The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of group knowledge heterogeneity…

Working in a smart home environment: examining the impact on productivity, well-being and future use intention

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a big impact on organisations globally, leaving organisations with no choice but to adapt to the new reality of remote…

The role of institutional and self in the formation of trust in artificial intelligence technologies

The deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in travel and tourism has received much attention in the wake of the pandemic. While societal adoption of AI has…

Working too much in China's tech industry: corporate social advocacy as a crisis response strategy to issue-based opinion polarization

Once a corporate crisis is entangled with a social issue, how consumers make sense of the crisis can be impacted by issue-based opinion polarization. This study investigates the…

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Conducting Internet Research

Considerations for participant protections when conducting internet research.

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If an activity falls under the category of human subjects research, it is regulated by the federal government and Teachers College (TC) Institutional Review Board (IRB). TC IRB has provided a guide to help researchers determine if their activities can be considered human subjects research.

Internet research is a common practice of using Internet information, especially free information on the World Wide Web or Internet-based resources (e.g., discussion forums, social media), in research. This guide will cover considerations pertaining to participant protections when conducting Internet research, including:

  • Private versus public spaces for exempt research
  • Identifiable data available in public databases
  • Minimizing risks when using sensitive Internet data
  • Common Internet research approaches

The following information is from an NIH videocast . ( Odwanzy, L. (2014, May 8). Conducting Internet Research: Challenges and Strategies for IRBs [Video]. VideoCast NIH. https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=13932&bhcp=1 )  

Private Versus Public Spaces for Exempt Research

Federal regulations define a category of human subjects research that is exempt from IRB review as:  

“ Research that only includes interactions involving educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior (including visual or auditory recording) .” 

With regards to online information, if the data is publicly available (such as Census data or labor statistics), it is usually not considered human subjects research. However, if the data includes identifiable information—meaning the data can be linked back to a specific individual—then it may need to undergo IRB review. Additionally, de-identified data pulled from a private source, such as data provided by a company, may also be considered human subjects research.

Public behavior is any behavior that a subject would or could perform in public without special devices or interventions. Public behavior on the Internet, however, is more difficult to pinpoint. Federal regulations indicate that an environment may be private if a reasonable user would consider their interactions in that environment to be private. To help identify public behavior on the Internet, consider:

  • Typically, posts on a private or password-protected social media profile or site are not considered public behavior.
  • Even if a website is publicly available, the information on the website may be protected by other measures (e.g., community guidelines, terms of use, etc.).
  • Sites that require users to pay for access to their content (e.g., purchasing a dataset) are not always considered private, even if the information is behind a paywall.
  • Discussions and chats on public forums, news broadcasts, and free podcasts or videos are typically considered public communications. 
  • Emails and person-to-person chat messages are often private, rather than public, communications.
  • However, institutions may dictate that any activity on their devices (e.g., a company laptop or phone) is subject to review. In these cases, the institutions can limit an individual’s privacy.
  • Some websites explicitly state that the interactions on their site are not to be used for research purposes.
  • Other sites may not explicitly refuse research activities, but they may require users to be respectful of others’ experiences. Depending on the website, “respect” may have a variety of meanings, including respect of user privacy.
  • Expectations of privacy may not always equate to the reality of privacy. 
  • For example, individuals may share personal information on an open forum because there is an expectation within the community that other users will respect their privacy. However, the community guidelines may not explicitly state that their website is private.
  • Forums and websites directed towards youth may require extra precautions, as the youth may be on the website with or without their guardian’s permission.
  • If a user shares media on a private profile, but then that media becomes publicly available through re-posts, the media should still be considered private. It is likely that a reasonable user would expect shares on private profiles to remain private. 
  • A site may only be open to certain types of users based on demographics or life experiences (e.g., cancer survivors, support groups for addiction, etc.). In these cases, a reasonable user may expect greater privacy based on the types of users they expect to interact with.

TC IRB will determine whether an Internet environment is private or public based on the IRB protocol submission.

Identifiable Data in Public Datasets

Identifiable data is information or records about a research participant that allows others to identify that person. Names, social security numbers, and bank account numbers are considered personal identifiers  and are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). TC IRB has a blog posted on Understanding Identifiable Data that further explains the different types of identifiers. Data that includes personal identifiers does not fall under the Exempt category.  

Other types of participant information may include indirect identifiers , such as birthdate, age, ethnicity, gender, etc. Taken alone, these pieces of information are not enough to identify any single participant. However, researchers have shown that certain combinations of these identifiers may identify participants. For example, Sweeny (2000) demonstrated that 87% of the United States population could be uniquely identified based solely on their ZIP code, gender, and date of birth.

It is important to remember that while data may be publicly available, it may still contain identifiable information. In these cases, the IRB will decide the risk to participants on a case-by-case basis. With Internet information, consider these to be possible identifiers:  

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Users may include their partial or full name in a username. When collecting usernames from a site, researchers should consider replacing usernames with pseudonyms.

IP addresses are unique identifiers for devices. Researchers should be wary of pairing IP addresses with other information.

Purchase Habits

With the surge in online shopping, individuals’ unique online purchase habits are shown to be possible identifiers. 

Digital Images, Audio, & Video

Photos, audio recordings, or videos of an individual are typically considered identifiable, unless the images or audio are ascertained in a way that protects the subject’s identity.

Avatars or Profile Pictures

Although avatars and profile pictures may not include real photos of the user, it is possible that they were chosen because of a resemblance to the user.

Keystroke Dynamics or Typing Biometrics

The detailed information of an individual’s timing and rhythm when typing on a keyboard is a unique identifier. "Keystroke rhythm" measures when each key is pressed and released while a user is typing. These rhythm combinations are as unique to an individual as a fingerprint or a signature.

Minimizing Risk When Using Sensitive Internet Data 

In cases where sensitive Internet data must be used for research purposes, researchers should take precautions to ensure the safety and privacy of participants. The nature of online research increases risk to participants in some areas. Researchers should develop a plan to minimize risk in the following areas:

  • Reduced Participant Contact : when research is conducted over the Internet, researchers have limited or no direct contact with subjects. This makes it more difficult for researchers to gauge subjects' reactions to the study interventions. 
  • Researchers should think through multiple possibilities for interventions, debriefing, and follow-up, if applicable.
  • Researcher and TC IRB contact information should be presented on the informed consent before beginning the study. This will ensure that participants know whom to contact if they have questions or concerns.
  • Breach of Confidentiality: when storing or collecting data on devices connected to the Internet, there is a heightened risk for identifiable participant data to be leaked. 
  • TC IRB has published a Data Security Plan  outlining best practices for securing and transmitting data. Researchers should implement these practices as they apply to their specific study.
  • In the case of a breach of confidentiality, researchers must file an adverse event with TC IRB.  

Common Internet Research Approaches

The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP) has provided examples of common Internet research practices. These include elements of research conducted over the Internet. Below are possible examples of Internet research where human subjects may be involved:  

  • Existing datasets (secondary data analysis)
  • Social media/blog posts
  • Chat room interactions  
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Social media
  • Patterns on social media or websites
  • Evolution of privacy issues
  • Spread of false information
  • Online shopping patterns and personalized digital marketing
  • Online interventions such as “nudging"

Increased Internet use for research requires researchers and IRBs to become familiar with Internet research-related topics and concerns. Research submitted to the IRB will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The Institutional Review Board at Teachers College will make the final determination of whether a study requires review. Researchers should email  [email protected] if they have any questions or concerns about their study design and whether it should be IRB reviewed.

Institutional Review Board

Address: Russell Hall, Room 13

* Phone: 212-678-4105 * Email:   [email protected]

Appointments are available by request . Make sure to have your IRB protocol number (e.g., 19-011) available.  If you are unable to access any of the downloadable resources, please contact  OASID via email [email protected] .

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How to Write a Successful Research Grant Application pp 189–205 Cite as

Using Technology and the Internet in Research

  • Joseph A. Konstan 4 &
  • William West  
  • First Online: 01 January 2010

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This chapter provides practical guidance to fellow researchers on how to write a strong Internet- or other new technology-based application. Advances in technology and the Internet have provided new opportunities and alternatives for researchers to survey the health of populations, to conduct in-depth qualitative studies, and to test online interventions in order to promote health and prevent disease in populations, including virtual communities. Proposing an application using the Internet or new technology changes how one thinks about, designs and executes a research project. A strong research application will reflect familiarity with these differences, detail key advantages of using the technology, and acknowledge the key disadvantages or limitations, while proposing the strongest scientific studies. Fifteen tips on writing a strong technology-based application are provided.

  • Virtual Community
  • Good Application
  • Online Study
  • Online Intervention
  • Online Research

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Editors Note: Dr. Simon Rosser provided the leadership for the development of the initial draft of this chapter. He has been a leader in the field of Internet-based research and many of the recommendations espoused in this chapter are based on his work and that of his research team.

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Konstan, J.A., West, W. (2010). Using Technology and the Internet in Research. In: Pequegnat, W., Stover, E., Boyce, C. (eds) How to Write a Successful Research Grant Application. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1454-5_16

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Elizabeth J. Peterson

Thinking Through Philosophy, Culture, and Psychology

internet for research paper

A Guide to Using the Internet for Research

This is the second in a series on using the internet as a learning device. You can read part one here and part three here .

We are looking at the best practices for using the Internet for research. Think of the internet as a library; it houses information on every topic you can imagine. It can point you to the best resources on Earth for information or link you to an authority on whichever topics capture your imagination.

The Internet as a Library

This massive library, a place where “reading materials are systematically arranged,” represents the whole of human knowledge, and sits accessible day and night. It can jump-start your research, narrow down sources, challenge your ideas on your topic and questions, and yield a ton of information very easily. In the words of Noam Chomsky, it’s invaluable as a research tool.

However, because the Internet isn’t regulated, anyone can post anything, regardless of it’s accuracy. There is no committee tasked with making sure the internet is a safe and truthful place; we are truly still in the Wild West days of internet usage. You need to develop an incredibly skeptical approach to claims or ideas you discover, and a process to determine their accuracy, to see through bias – the author’s and your own – to separate fact from opinion.

A few questions to start with:

  • Is the owner or author’s name and contact information available?
  • What kind of sources do they use, and are their conclusions reasonable based on the information presented?
  • What sort of proof or references do their posts offer?
  • Do they link to research or original documents, to news releases or other blogs?
  • Do they link to other pages or offer proof at all?

Then, a few tips to keep in mind while looking for information online:

Be cautious and find out information about the author and their background or qualifications, as well as look at the information they link to or reference in their work. Verify their claims and sources back to the original source or document. You want to be confident in the reliability of a writer’s work.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking breaking news is better. It takes time for details and facts to be validated and a clear picture to emerge. Often, informing yourself with older, established aspects of the subject will equip you to process the newer and more detailed articles and reading you do later.

It’s worth looking at whether the website is updated and links are not broken, so you’re aware that facts or research found there may be out of date. However, not every website needs to be recently written to be accurate, especially when dealing with older, historical figures and facts. I’ve found hobby websites and posts on explorers and other figures through history which were written years ago to be full of facts and quotes which didn’t make it into the summaries on the person. They were simply written in 2012, instead of this year. However, do rigorously check the claims and facts on these older posts and sites.

Keep in mind the role bias can play in writing and reading research. Bias leads us to only seek out news or facts which bolster our beliefs. When doing research, we want to find information which challenges those beliefs, to test them for accuracy.

Most importantly, search with the end in mind. Consider the purpose of your research, as this will dictate the nature of sources to look for. If you’re doing research to come up with ideas, perhaps reading through blogs and websites will supply creative ideas. If you are writing for an academic audience, scholarly articles and peer-reviewed sources would provide a firm foundation for your paper. If you want to know the latest discoveries in current research on a specific topic, news releases and publications will likely point you in the right direction. Sources become more or less convincing depending on your goals.

As I’ve shared in a couple editions of Five for Friday, Wikipedia has significantly improved its quality and the veracity of its sources since its beginnings in 2001. Once a joke among students, and blacklisted by instructors, the “free encyclopedia” has all but reinvented itself. Now, its summaries often inform the search results in the sidebars of internet browsers, and more likely than not, the top search results lead to Wikipedia.

Where once Wikipedia pages were primarily opinion and often false or misleading, now entries are vetted and continually improved. Behind the webpages, a team of over 130,000 monthly editors work to clean up grammar, flag when a source needs to be cited, and discuss the intricacies of perceived bias and opinion.

This increase in standards has positioned Wikipedia to become a serious rival to other databases, like the Encyclopedia Britannica website. Where the Encyclopedia Britannica articles have historically been written by celebrated academics or leaders in their fields, including Nobel laureates and former presidents, Wikipedia allows anyone to edit and contribute. This has been the source of much hesitancy, and in part, contributed to the ribbing visited upon anyone seriously citing Wikipedia in conversation. If anyone can write what they want, how can anything be trusted?

The website requires rigorous validation and quality sources to be cited. There are discussions about bias, opinion, and diversity of experience. This also allows for more people, more debate, and ultimately more consensus on a topic. Britannica have paid their contributors, attracting talent, but therein limiting the number of participants and entries. Wikipedia, with their millions of registered volunteers, attracts writers and researchers because they care about the topic at hand. Perhaps this passion for knowledge is what has allowed Wikipedia to succeed.

Wikipedia is also the more extensive source to start with when researching living people. Wikipedia has made this their calling card, over the years, with updates happening seemingly instantaneously. The Wikipedia article on Elon Musk, for instance, currently sits at over 11,000 words, while the Britannica listing is just over 900 words, though, to be fair they do link to related articles about his businesses.

I’ve found the single most useful feature of Wikipedia to be the “Further Reading” section at the bottom of most entries. This lists books, videos, articles, and other vetted sources on the topic, often from which the entry has been compiled. After familiarizing myself with a summary of the person or idea, I click on this section. It is a wealth of information, listing out biographies, documents available online, and other quality source material which you can then explore and learn from yourself. For example, in my recent research on Marshall McLuhan, I discovered that his family maintains an extensive website with quotes, notable appearances or references to his work, and a full biography and bibliography. I was able to find several quality books and webpages from the single Further Reading one section on McLuhan’s Wikipedia page .

Other Websites

For any topic you can list, there is a blog about it. Blogs and other personal websites can also be very helpful, particularly when they list or link to their source material. Not all websites link to source material; many simply quote other stories without bothering to verify any further. When you are looking for accurate information, you’ll need to take on this work yourself, finding the actual book, study, or interview to which the article is referring. Don’t be content with the fact that everyone else seems to think it’s legitimate; do the work to know for certain that the information is valid.

Encyclopedia Britainnica is a great resource for historical research in particular. The Encyclopedia website is written by professionals, which adds a bit of weight to their articles. Those former Presidents and globally respected leaders write extensively about their interest and sources, which provides the reader with a long list of references to explore.

Scholarly sources are also a great place to gather information. Depending on your topic and the purpose of your research, you may want to focus primarily on these sources. Google Scholar searches through academic articles. The drawback here is that Google searches the entire document, rather than only the abstracts, which may or may not be available to you to view online. You may also need to pay to access the research returned in a search. Many of these studies are rather pricey, averaging $25 for a copy of a single study. If you are a student, most likely your institution has access to many of these databases already. Otherwise, I would recommend going through your public library, and asking which databases they have access to. In either case, ask your librarian and they’ll know how to help you gain access. Google Scholar allows you to refine with Boolean terms, or within a certain time range. This is great for when you are looking for particularly newer research. Their search results also show how many times a particular study has been referenced, and include links to other articles which cite the original study. This is a great place to discover studies on related topics.

JSTOR is an academic library, which hosts books, journals, and other scholarly material. Their search system is more similar to a database search. You can use quotations to search for exact phrases, which will help return more exact results.

For philosophy, and many psychology theories and figures, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an amazing source of scholarly essays on nearly every topic imaginable. They have biographies, thorough examinations of theories and implications of philosophical ideas, and helpful summaries of every major school of philosophy and philosopher.

Other resources to look at are the websites of the Library of Congress and National Archives. Many philosophers, authors, and historical figures have inspired dedicated websites, or even societies, which can also be rich sources of information.

Online courses and podcasts are also great options for learning and finding interesting ideas; they are just more likely take more time. If you want to take a deep dive into a particular topic or find more sources, you could look into a course. I don’t usually use these sources, though, unless I have weeks to devote to the topic.

A more recent discovery for me is lectures on YouTube. The platform has information on just about any topic you could imagine; there are lectures from JRR Tolkien on his Middle Earth epics; obscure history videos sharing lesser known details about historical events; you can hear lectures given by modern thinkers. There are also videos on art history, famous speeches, and any hobby you can think of. Rather than being a platform where we waste time, YouTube can actually be a great source of learning material and research. Recently, I’ve listened to several lectures and debates from Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher and professor in the 1960s and 70s. His work dealt with the impact of information and media on society and many of his lectures and interviews on YouTube, aren’t available in text or other mediums.

When you look for a video, you’ll want to be specific in your search terms, and look for videos from universities, legitimate organizations, or the estate of author’s (as in the case of Tolkien or McLuhan, for example). You’ll probably also want find a video around twenty minutes; long enough to cover an overview, but not so short you don’t gain any context or information. A great video will also list sources or further study suggestions in the video description for you to continue your research.

Discovering Books

The internet is also unparalleled in discovering books, particularly those which are obscure or older. Books are amazing for research because of the amount of concentrated information they contain. The underrated index and reference sections are gold-mines for finding more books on your topic of interest. Read the index and reference sections of books you enjoyed, or on topics you want to explore more. Go through the bibliography and write down the titles of a couple books to look up and read.

A habit I am working to develop is looking through the reference section of books as I finish them, and choosing at least one title to read next. Every book is written from an amalgamation of the author’s references and experiences, often in the form of dozens of books. While each and every title of inspiration may not be listed, the author will take great care to acknowledge the sources of the material which directly made it into the book. Every piece of writing is the result of cutting out and removing other ideas, references, and information – some of which will interest you. By continuing your reading in related books, you are building a more complete understanding of the topic at hand and how it fits into the larger context of society.

So far as choosing books, I first tend to look at how many times a title is referenced. After getting titles from the bibliography of a book, I’ll usually do an internet search on the topic, then go to Wikipedia to see the references and further reading recommendations.

If the same author’s name keeps popping up, that should indicate to you that their text is widely read and accepted. If Wikipedia lists a title, and that same title has been referenced in a book I’ve read, I usually go to Amazon to look it up. On Amazon, I first look for reported issues concerning the quality of certain editions. I’ll also look to see whether the work has mixed reviews. I’m not looking for high reviews so much as discussion or differing opinions. I tend to gravitate toward ideas with are older and maybe discussed a bit less, in order to widen my perspective on a topic. Reading through the reviews can usually give you an idea of whether their ideas are popular today or not.

There are of course many out of print books and primary sources which exist only in analog form. The internet, particularly Google Scholar, can help to narrow down the topics and ideas presented in these older books.

Round ups of books on specific topics can also be very helpful. Take a general topic, such as “media history” and do an internet search for the best books on media history. From there you can refine, perhaps you want to look closer at yellow journalism and muckraking in the early 20th century. Perhpas you are more interested in the digital revolution’s effects on journalism. Start out general, then use authors names and more specific topics to whittle down the results until you are left with a manageable number of sources.

Get Specific

The internet is the greatest resource mankind’s knowledge has produced. With a simple internet search, you have access to the wisdom of history – from Plato’s cave allegory, detailed and put into striking video – to NASA’s documentation of 1969’s mission to the moon and everything in between. There is no single resource as detailed, and capable of high quality as the internet. However, mixed in with these extraordinary creations and accounts of genius, there are a lot of duds; a lot of mediocre information exists.

No matter how specific your topic is, there are thousands of resources available. The internet is simply too large to function well under general terms. In order to find high quality information, we need to get specific. The internet rewards specific interests.

Putting It Together

While all of these resources are great starting places, they are only that – a place to start. Developing a deep understanding of a subject requires effort and quality material. Note the ideas and titles in your commonplace book, along with your takeaways. When you come across a name or new term, do an internet search and go to the Wikipedia page. Read the summary at the top, and jump to what stands out or lines up with your original reason for the search. Allow your curiosity to lead you to surprising places, and always verify that your sources are reliable. Keep in mind the purpose of your research, whether for deeper personal understanding, an academic presentation, or to familiarize yourself with new ideas. Take your responsibility toward your education seriously, and keep asking questions.

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Experts are split about how much control people will retain over essential decision-making as digital systems and artificial intelligence spread. They agree that powerful corporate and government authorities will expand the role of AI in people’s daily lives in useful ways. But, many worry these systems will diminish individuals’ ability to control their choices.

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Experts are split about the likely evolution of a truly immersive “metaverse.” They expect that augmented- and mixed-reality enhancements will become more useful in people’s daily lives. Many worry that current online problems may be magnified if Web3 development is led by those who built today’s dominant web platforms.

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Internet of Things is a revolutionary approach for future technology enhancement: a review

  • Sachin Kumar   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-3949-0302 1 ,
  • Prayag Tiwari 2 &
  • Mikhail Zymbler 1  

Journal of Big Data volume  6 , Article number:  111 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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Internet of Things (IoT) is a new paradigm that has changed the traditional way of living into a high tech life style. Smart city, smart homes, pollution control, energy saving, smart transportation, smart industries are such transformations due to IoT. A lot of crucial research studies and investigations have been done in order to enhance the technology through IoT. However, there are still a lot of challenges and issues that need to be addressed to achieve the full potential of IoT. These challenges and issues must be considered from various aspects of IoT such as applications, challenges, enabling technologies, social and environmental impacts etc. The main goal of this review article is to provide a detailed discussion from both technological and social perspective. The article discusses different challenges and key issues of IoT, architecture and important application domains. Also, the article bring into light the existing literature and illustrated their contribution in different aspects of IoT. Moreover, the importance of big data and its analysis with respect to IoT has been discussed. This article would help the readers and researcher to understand the IoT and its applicability to the real world.

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an emerging paradigm that enables the communication between electronic devices and sensors through the internet in order to facilitate our lives. IoT use smart devices and internet to provide innovative solutions to various challenges and issues related to various business, governmental and public/private industries across the world [ 1 ]. IoT is progressively becoming an important aspect of our life that can be sensed everywhere around us. In whole, IoT is an innovation that puts together extensive variety of smart systems, frameworks and intelligent devices and sensors (Fig.  1 ). Moreover, it takes advantage of quantum and nanotechnology in terms of storage, sensing and processing speed which were not conceivable beforehand [ 2 ]. Extensive research studies have been done and available in terms of scientific articles, press reports both on internet and in the form of printed materials to illustrate the potential effectiveness and applicability of IoT transformations. It could be utilized as a preparatory work before making novel innovative business plans while considering the security, assurance and interoperability.

figure 1

General architecture of IoT

A great transformation can be observed in our daily routine life along with the increasing involvement of IoT devices and technology. One such development of IoT is the concept of Smart Home Systems (SHS) and appliances that consist of internet based devices, automation system for homes and reliable energy management system [ 3 ]. Besides, another important achievement of IoT is Smart Health Sensing system (SHSS). SHSS incorporates small intelligent equipment and devices to support the health of the human being. These devices can be used both indoors and outdoors to check and monitor the different health issues and fitness level or the amount of calories burned in the fitness center etc. Also, it is being used to monitor the critical health conditions in the hospitals and trauma centers as well. Hence, it has changed the entire scenario of the medical domain by facilitating it with high technology and smart devices [ 4 , 5 ]. Moreover, IoT developers and researchers are actively involved to uplift the life style of the disabled and senior age group people. IoT has shown a drastic performance in this area and has provided a new direction for the normal life of such people. As these devices and equipment are very cost effective in terms of development cost and easily available within a normal price range, hence most of the people are availing them [ 6 ]. Thanks to IoT, as they can live a normal life. Another important aspect of our life is transportation. IoT has brought up some new advancements to make it more efficient, comfortable and reliable. Intelligent sensors, drone devices are now controlling the traffic at different signalized intersections across major cities. In addition, vehicles are being launched in markets with pre-installed sensing devices that are able to sense the upcoming heavy traffic congestions on the map and may suggest you another route with low traffic congestion [ 7 ]. Therefore IoT has a lot to serve in various aspects of life and technology. We may conclude that IoT has a lot of scope both in terms of technology enhancement and facilitate the humankind.

IoT has also shown its importance and potential in the economic and industrial growth of a developing region. Also, in trade and stock exchange market, it is being considered as a revolutionary step. However, security of data and information is an important concern and highly desirable, which is a major challenging issue to deal with [ 5 ]. Internet being a largest source of security threats and cyber-attacks has opened the various doors for hackers and thus made the data and information insecure. However, IoT is committed to provide the best possible solutions to deal with security issues of data and information. Hence, the most important concern of IoT in trade and economy is security. Therefore, the development of a secure path for collaboration between social networks and privacy concerns is a hot topic in IoT and IoT developers are working hard for this.

The remaining part of the article is organized as follows: “ Literature survey ” section will provide state of art on important studies that addressed various challenges and issues in IoT. “ IoT architecture and technologies ” section discussed the IoT functional blocks, architecture in detail. In “ Major key issues and challenges of IoT ” section, important key issues and challenges of IoT is discussed. “ Major IoT applications ” section provides emerging application domains of IoT. In “ Importance of big data analytics in IoT ” section, the role and importance of big data and its analysis is discussed. Finally, the article concluded in “ Conclusions ” section.

Literature survey

IoT has a multidisciplinary vision to provide its benefit to several domains such as environmental, industrial, public/private, medical, transportation etc. Different researchers have explained the IoT differently with respect to specific interests and aspects. The potential and power of IoT can be seen in several application domains. Figure  2 illustrates few of the application domains of IoTs potentials.

figure 2

Some of the potential application domains of IoT

Various important IoT projects have taken charge over the market in last few years. Some of the important IoT projects that have captured most of the market are shown in Fig.  3 . In Fig.  3 , a global distribution of these IoT projects is shown among American, European and Asia/Pacific region. It can be seen that American continent are contributing more in the health care and smart supply chain projects whereas contribution of European continent is more in the smart city projects [ 8 ].

figure 3

Global distribution of IoT projects among America (USA, South America and Canada), Europe and APAC (Asia and Pacific region) [ 8 ]

Figure  4 , illustrates the global market share of IoT projects worldwide [ 8 ]. It is evident that industry, smart city, smart energy and smart vehicle based IoT projects have a big market share in comparison to others.

figure 4

Global share of IoT projects across the world [ 8 ]

Smart city is one of the trendy application areas of IoT that incorporates smart homes as well. Smart home consists of IoT enabled home appliances, air-conditioning/heating system, television, audio/video streaming devices, and security systems which are communicating with each other in order to provide best comfort, security and reduced energy consumption. All this communication takes place through IoT based central control unit using Internet. The concept of smart city gained popularity in the last decade and attracted a lot of research activities [ 9 ]. The smart home business economy is about to cross the 100 billion dollars by 2022 [ 10 ]. Smart home does not only provide the in-house comfort but also benefits the house owner in cost cutting in several aspects i.e. low energy consumption will results in comparatively lower electricity bill. Besides smart homes, another category that comes within smart city is smart vehicles. Modern cars are equipped with intelligent devices and sensors that control most of the components from the headlights of the car to the engine [ 11 ]. The IoT is committed towards developing a new smart car systems that incorporates wireless communication between car-to-car and car-to-driver to ensure predictive maintenance with comfortable and safe driving experience [ 12 ].

Khajenasiri et al. [ 10 ] performed a survey on the IoT solutions for smart energy control to benefit the smart city applications. They stated that at present IoT has been deployed in very few application areas to serve the technology and people. The scope of IoT is very wide and in near future IoT is able to capture almost all application areas. They mentioned that energy saving is one of the important part of the society and IoT can assist in developing a smart energy control system that will save both energy and money. They described an IoT architecture with respect to smart city concept. The authors also discussed that one of the challenging task in achieving this is the immaturity of IoT hardware and software. They suggested that these issues must be resolved to ensure a reliable, efficient and user friendly IoT system.

Alavi et al. [ 13 ] addressed the urbanization issue in the cities. The movement of people from rural to urban atmosphere resulting in growing population of the cities. Therefore, there is a need to provide smart solutions for mobility, energy, healthcare and infrastructure. Smart city is one of the important application areas for IoT developers. It explores several issues such as traffic management, air quality management, public safety solutions, smart parking, smart lightning and smart waste collection (Fig.  5 ). They mentioned that IoT is working hard to tackle these challenging issues. The need for improved smart city infrastructure with growing urbanization has opened the doors for entrepreneurs in the field of smart city technologies. The authors concluded that IoT enabled technology is very important for the development of sustainable smart cities.

figure 5

Potential IoT application areas for smart cities

Another important issue of IoT that requires attention and a lot of research is security and privacy. Weber [ 14 ] focused on these issues and suggested that a private organization availing IoT must incorporate data authentication, access control, resilience to attacks and client privacy into their business activities that would be an additional advantage. Weber suggested that in order to define global security and privacy issues, IoT developers must take into account the geographical limitations of the different countries. A generic framework needs to be designed to fit the global needs in terms of privacy and security. It is highly recommended to investigate and recognize the issues and challenges in privacy and security before developing the full fledge working IoT framework.

Later, Heer et al. [ 15 ] came up with a security issue in IP based IoT system. They mentioned that internet is backbone for the communication among devices that takes place in an IoT system. Therefore, security issues in IP based IoT systems are an important concern. In addition, security architecture should be designed considering the life cycle and capabilities of any object in the IoT system. It also includes the involvement of the trusted third party and the security protocols. The security architecture with scalability potential to serve the small-scale to large-scale things in IoT is highly desirable. The study pointed out that IoT gave rise to a new way of communication among several things across the network therefore traditional end to end internet protocol are not able to provide required support to this communication. Therefore, new protocols must be designed considering the translations at the gateways to ensure end-to-end security. Moreover, all the layers responsible for communication has their own security issues and requirements. Therefore, satisfying the requirements for one particular layers will leave the system into a vulnerable state and security should be ensured for all the layers.

Authentication and access control is another issue in IoT that needs promising solutions to strengthen the security. Liu et al. [ 16 ] brought up a solution to handle authentication and access control. Authentication is very important to verify the communicating parties to prevent the loss of confidential information. Liu et al. [ 16 ] provided an authentication scheme based on Elliptic Curve Cryptosystem and verified it on different security threats i.e. eavesdropping, man-in-the-middle attack, key control and replay attack. They claimed that there proposed schemes are able to provide better authentication and access control in IoT based communication. Later, Kothmayr et al. [ 17 ] proposed a two-way authentication scheme based of datagram transport layer security (DTLS) for IoT. The attackers over the internet are always active to steal the secured information. The proposed approach are able to provide message security, integrity, authenticity and confidentiality, memory overhead and end-to-end latency in the IoT based communication network.

Li et al. [ 18 ] proposed a dynamic approach for data centric IoT applications with respect to cloud platforms. The need of an appropriate device, software configuration and infrastructure requires efficient solutions to support massive amount of IoT applications that are running on cloud platforms. IoT developers and researchers are actively engaged in developing solutions considering both massive platforms and heterogeneous nature of IoT objects and devices. Olivier et al. [ 19 ] explained the concept of software defined networking (SDN) based architecture that performs well even if a well-defined architecture is not available. They proposed that SDN based security architecture is more flexible and efficient for IoT.

Luk et al. [ 20 ] stated that the main task of a secure sensor network (SSN) is to provide data privacy, protection from replay attacks and authentication. They discussed two popular SSN services namely TinySec [ 21 ] and ZigBee [ 22 ]. They mentioned that although both the SSN services are efficient and reliable, however, ZigBee is comparatively provides higher security but consumes high energy whereas TinySec consumes low energy but not as highly secured as ZigBee. They proposed another architecture MiniSec to support high security and low energy consumption and demonstrated its performance for the Telos platform. Yan et al. [ 23 ] stated that trust management is an important issue in IoT. Trust management helps people to understand and trust IoT services and applications without worrying about uncertainty issues and risks [ 24 ]. They investigated different issues in trust management and discussed its importance with respect to IoT developers and users.

Noura et al. [ 25 ] stated the importance of interoperability in IoT as it allows integration of devices, services from different heterogeneous platforms to provide the efficient and reliable service. Several other studies focused on the importance of interoperability and discussed several challenges that interoperability issue is facing in IoT [ 26 , 27 , 28 ]. Kim et al. [ 29 ] addressed the issue of climate change and proposed an IoT based ecological monitoring system. They mentioned that existing approaches are time consuming and required a lot of human intervention. Also, a routine visit is required to collect the information from the sensors installed at the site under investigation. Also, some information remained missing which leads to not highly accurate analysis. Therefore, IoT based framework is able to solve this problem and can provide high accuracy in analysis and prediction. Later, Wang et al. [ 30 ] shows their concern for domestic waste water treatment. They discussed several deficiencies in the process of waste water treatment and dynamic monitoring system and suggested effective solutions based on IoT. They stated that IoT can be very effective in the waste water treatment and process monitoring.

Agriculture is one of the important domain around the world. Agriculture depends on several factors i.e. geographical, ecological etc. Qiu et al. [ 31 ] stated that technology that is being used for ecosystem control is immature with low intelligence level. They mentioned that it could be a good application area for IoT developers and researchers.

Qiu et al. [ 31 ] proposed an intelligent monitoring platform framework for facility agriculture ecosystem based on IoT that consists of four layer mechanism to manage the agriculture ecosystem. Each layer is responsible for specific task and together the framework is able to achieve a better ecosystem with reduced human intervention.

Another important concern around the world is climate change due to global warming. Fang et al. [ 32 ] introduced an integrated information system (IIS) that integrates IoT, geo-informatics, cloud computing, global positioning system (GPS), geographical information system (GIS) and e-science in order to provide an effective environmental monitoring and control system. They mentioned that the proposed IIS provides improved data collection, analysis and decision making for climate control. Air pollution is another important concern worldwide. Various tools and techniques are available to air quality measures and control. Cheng et al. [ 33 ] proposed AirCloud which is a cloud based air quality and monitoring system. They deployed AirCloud and evaluated its performance using 5 months data for the continuous duration of 2 months.

Temglit et al. [ 34 ] considered Quality of Service (QoS) as an important challenge and a complex task in evaluation and selection of IoT devices, protocols and services. QoS is very important criteria to attract and gain trust of users towards IoT services and devices. They came up with an interesting distributed QoS selection approach. This approach was based on distributed constraint optimization problem and multi-agent paradigm. Further, the approach was evaluated based on several experiments under realistic distributed environments. Another important aspect of IoT is its applicability to the environmental and agriculture standards. Talavera et al. [ 35 ] focused in this direction and presented the fundamental efforts of IoT for agro-industrial and environmental aspects in a survey study. They mentioned that the efforts of IoT in these areas are noticeable. IoT is strengthening the current technology and benefiting the farmers and society. Jara et al. [ 36 ] discussed the importance of IoT based monitoring of patients health. They suggested that IoT devices and sensors with the help of internet can assist health monitoring of patients. They also proposed a framework and protocol to achieve their objective. Table 1 provides a summary of the important studies and the direction of research with a comparison of studies on certain evaluation parameters.

IoT architecture and technologies

The IoT architecture consists of five important layers that defines all the functionalities of IoT systems. These layers are perception layer, network layer, middleware layer, application layer, business layer. At the bottom of IoT architecture, perception layer exists that consists of physical devices i.e. sensors, RFID chips, barcodes etc. and other physical objects connected in IoT network. These devices collects information in order to deliver it to the network layer. Network layer works as a transmission medium to deliver the information from perception layer to the information processing system. This transmission of information may use any wired/wireless medium along with 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc. Next level layer is known as middleware layer. The main task of this layer is to process the information received from the network layer and make decisions based on the results achieved from ubiquitous computing. Next, this processed information is used by application layer for global device management. On the top of the architecture, there is a business layer which control the overall IoT system, its applications and services. The business layer visualizes the information and statistics received from the application layer and further used this knowledge to plan future targets and strategies. Furthermore, the IoT architectures can be modified according to the need and application domain [ 19 , 20 , 37 ]. Besides layered framework, IoT system consists of several functional blocks that supports various IoT activities such as sensing mechanism, authentication and identification, control and management [ 38 ]. Figure  6 illustrates such functional blocks of IoT architecture.

figure 6

A generic function module of IoT system

There are several important functional blocks responsible for I/O operations, connectivity issues, processing, audio/video monitoring and storage management. All these functional block together incorporates an efficient IoT system which are important for optimum performance. Although, there are several reference architectures proposed with the technical specifications, but these are still far from the standard architecture that is suitable for global IoT [ 39 ]. Therefore, a suitable architecture is still needsvk to be designed that could satisfy the global IoT needs. The generic working structure of IoT system is shown in Fig.  7 . Figure  7 shows a dependency of IoT on particular application parameters. IoT gateways have an important role in IoT communication as it allows connectivity between IoT servers and IoT devices related to several applications [ 40 ].

figure 7

Working structure of IoT

Scalability, modularity, interoperability and openness are the key design issues for an efficient IoT architecture in a heterogenous environment. The IoT architecture must be designed with an objective to fulfil the requirements of cross domain interactions, multi-system integration with the potential of simple and scalable management functionalities, big data analytics and storage, and user friendly applications. Also, the architecture should be able to scaleup the functionality and add some intelligence and automation among the IoT devices in the system.

Moreover, increasing amount of massive data being generated through the communication between IoT sensors and devices is a new challenge. Therefore, an efficient architecture is required to deal with massive amount of streaming data in IoT system. Two popular IoT system architectures are cloud and fog/edge computing that supports with the handling, monitoring and analysis of huge amount of data in IoT systems. Therefore, a modern IoT architecture can be defined as a 4 stage architecture as shown in Fig.  8 .

figure 8

Four stage IoT architecture to deal with massive data

In stage 1 of the architecture, sensors and actuators plays an important role. Real world is comprised of environment, humans, animals, electronic gadgets, smart vehicles, and buildings etc. Sensors detect the signals and data flow from these real world entities and transforms into data which could further be used for analysis. Moreover, actuators is able to intervene the reality i.e. to control the temperature of the room, to slow down the vehicle speed, to turn off the music and light etc. Therefore, stage 1 assist in collecting data from real world which could be useful for further analysis. Stage 2 is responsible to collaborate with sensors and actuators along with gateways and data acquisition systems. In this stage, massive amount of data generated in stage 1 is aggregated and optimized in a structured way suitable for processing. Once the massive amount of data is aggregated and structured then it is ready to be passed to stage 3 which is edge computing. Edge computing can be defined as an open architecture in distributed fashion which allows use of IoT technologies and massive computing power from different locations worldwide. It is very powerful approach for streaming data processing and thus suitable for IoT systems. In stage 3, edge computing technologies deals with massive amount of data and provides various functionalities such as visualization, integration of data from other sources, analysis using machine learning methods etc. The last stage comprises of several important activities such as in depth processing and analysis, sending feedback to improve the precision and accuracy of the entire system. Everything at this stage will be performed on cloud server or data centre. Big data framework such as Hadoop and Spark may be utilized to handle this large streaming data and machine learning approaches can be used to develop better prediction models which could help in a more accurate and reliable IoT system to meet the demand of present time.

Major key issues and challenges of IoT

The involvement of IoT based systems in all aspects of human lives and various technologies involved in data transfer between embedded devices made it complex and gave rise to several issues and challenges. These issues are also a challenge for the IoT developers in the advanced smart tech society. As technology is growing, challenges and need for advanced IoT system is also growing. Therefore, IoT developers need to think of new issues arising and should provide solutions for them.

Security and privacy issues

One of the most important and challenging issues in the IoT is the security and privacy due to several threats, cyber attacks, risks and vulnerabilities [ 41 ]. The issues that give rise to device level privacy are insufficient authorization and authentication, insecure software, firmware, web interface and poor transport layer encryption [ 42 ]. Security and privacy issues are very important parameters to develop confidence in IoT Systems with respect to various aspects [ 43 ]. Security mechanisms must be embedded at every layer of IoT architecture to prevent security threats and attacks [ 23 ]. Several protocols are developed and efficiently deployed on every layer of communication channel to ensure the security and privacy in IoT based systems [ 44 , 45 ]. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) are one of the cryptographic protocols that are implemented between transport and application layer to provide security solutions in various IoT systems [ 44 ]. However, some IoT applications require different methods to ensure the security in communication between IoT devices. Besides this, if communication takes place using wireless technologies within the IoT system, it becomes more vulnerable to security risks. Therefore, certain methods should be deployed to detect malicious actions and for self healing or recovery. Privacy on the other hand is another important concern which allows users to feel secure and comfortable while using IoT solutions. Therefore, it is required to maintain the authorization and authentication over a secure network to establish the communication between trusted parties [ 46 ]. Another issue is the different privacy policies for different objects communicating within the IoT system. Therefore, each object should be able to verify the privacy policies of other objects in IoT system before transmitting the data.

Interoperability/standard issues

Interoperability is the feasibility to exchange the information among different IoT devices and systems. This exchange of information does not rely on the deployed software and hardware. The interoperability issue arises due to the heterogeneous nature of different technology and solutions used for IoT development. The four interoperability levels are technical, semantic, syntactic and organizational [ 47 ]. Various functionalities are being provided by IoT systems to improve the interoperability that ensures communication between different objects in a heterogeneous environment. Additionally, it is possible to merge different IoT platforms based on their functionalities to provide various solutions for IoT users [ 48 ]. Considering interoperability an important issue, researchers approved several solutions that are also know as interoperability handling approaches [ 49 ]. These solutions could be adapaters/gateways based, virtual networks/overlay based, service oriented architecture based etc. Although interoperability handling approaches ease some pressure on IoT systems but there are still certain challenges remain with interoperability that could be a scope for future studies [ 25 ].

Ethics, law and regulatory rights

Another issue for IoT developers is the ethics, law and regulatory rights. There are certain rules and regulations to maintain the standard, moral values and to prevent the people from violating them. Ethics and law are very similar term with the only difference is that ethics are standards that people believes and laws are certain restrictions decided by the government. However, both ethics and laws are designed to maintain the standard, quality and prevent people from illegal use. With the development of IoT, several real life problems are solved but it has also given rise to critical ethical and legal challenges [ 50 ]. Data security, privacy protection, trust and safety, data usability are some of those challenges. It has also been observed that majority of IoT users are supporting government norms and regulations with respect to data protection, privacy and safety due to the lack of trust in IoT devices. Therefore, this issue must be taken into consideration to maintain and improve the trust among people for the use of IoT devices and systems.

Scalability, availability and reliability

A system is scalable if it is possible to add new services, equipments and devices without degrading its performance. The main issue with IoT is to support a large number of devices with different memory, processing, storage power and bandwidth [ 28 ]. Another important issue that must be taken into consideration is the availability. Scalability and availability both should be deployed together in the layered framework of IoT. A great example of scalability is cloud based IoT systems which provide sufficient support to scale the IoT network by adding up new devices, storage and processing power as required.

However, this global distributed IoT network gives rise to a new research paradigm to develop a smooth IoT framework that satisfy global needs [ 51 ]. Another key challenge is the availability of resources to the authentic objects regardless of their location and time of the requirement. In a distributed fashion, several small IoT networks are timely attached to the global IoT platforms to utilize their resources and services. Therefore, availability is an important concern [ 52 ]. Due to the use of different data transmission channels i.e. satellite communication, some services and availability of resources may be interrupted. Therefore, an independent and reliable data transmission channel is required for uninterrupted availability of resources and services.

Quality of Service (QoS)

Quality of Service (QoS) is another important factor for IoT. QoS can be defined as a measure to evaluate the quality, efficiency and performance of IoT devices, systems and architecture [ 34 ]. The important and required QoS metrics for IoT applications are reliability, cost, energy consumption, security, availability and service time [ 53 ]. A smarter IoT ecosystem must fulfill the requirements of QoS standards. Also, to ensure the reliability of any IoT service and device, its QoS metrics must be defined first. Further, users may also be able to specifiy their needs and requirements accordingly. Several approaches can be deployed for QoS assessment, however as mentioned by White et al. [ 54 ] there is a trade-off between quality factors and approaches. Therefore, good quality models must be deployed to overcome this trade-off. There are certain good quality models available in literature such as ISO/IEC25010 [ 55 ] and OASIS-WSQM [ 56 ] which can be used to evaluate the approaches used for QoS assessment. These models provides a wide range of quality factors that is quite sufficient for QoS assessment for IoT services. Table  2 summarizes the different studies with respect to IoT key challenges and issues discussed above.

Major IoT applications

Emerging economy, environmental and health-care.

IoT is completely devoted to provide emerging public and financial benefits and development to the society and people. This includes a wide range of public facilities i.e. economic development, water quality maintenance, well-being, industrialization etc. Overall, IoT is working hard to accomplish the social, health and economic goals of United Nations advancement step. Environmental sustainability is another important concern. IoT developers must be concerned about environmental impact of the IoT systems and devices to overcome the negative impact [ 48 ]. Energy consumption by IoT devices is one of the challenges related to environmental impact. Energy consumption is increasing at a high rate due to internet enabled services and edge cutting devices. This area needs research for the development of high quality materials in order to create new IoT devices with lower energy consumption rate. Also, green technologies can be adopted to create efficient energy efficient devices for future use. It is not only environmental friendly but also advantageous for human health. Researchers and engineers are engaged in developing highly efficient IoT devices to monitor several health issues such as diabetes, obesity or depression [ 57 ]. Several issues related to environment, energy and healthcare are considered by several studies.

Smart city, transport and vehicles

IoT is transforming the traditional civil structure of the society into high tech structure with the concept of smart city, smart home and smart vehicles and transport. Rapid improvements are being done with the help of supporting technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing to understand the need and use of technology at home [ 58 ]. Various technologies such as cloud server technology, wireless sensor networks that must be used with IoT servers to provide an efficient smart city. Another important issue is to think about environmental aspect of smart city. Therefore, energy efficient technologies and Green technologies should also be considered for the design and planning of smart city infrastructure. Further, smart devices which are being incorporated into newly launched vehicles are able to detect traffic congestions on the road and thus can suggest an optimum alternate route to the driver. This can help to lower down the congestion in the city. Furthermore, smart devices with optimum cost should be designed to be incorporated in all range vehicles to monitor the activity of engine. IoT is also very effective in maintaining the vehicle’s health. Self driving cars have the potential to communicate with other self driving vehicles by the means of intelligent sensors. This would make the traffic flow smoother than human-driven cars who used to drive in a stop and go manner. This procedure will take time to be implemented all over the world. Till the time, IoT devices can help by sensing traffic congestion ahead and can take appropriate actions. Therefore, a transport manufacturing company should incorporate IoT devices into their manufactured vehicles to provide its advantage to the society.

Agriculture and industry automation

The world’s growing population is estimated to reach approximate 10 billion by 2050. Agriculture plays an important role in our lives. In order to feed such a massive population, we need to advance the current agriculture approaches. Therefore, there is a need to combine agriculture with technology so that the production can be improved in an efficient way. Greenhouse technology is one of the possible approaches in this direction. It provides a way to control the environmental parameters in order to improve the production. However, manual control of this technology is less effective, need manual efforts and cost, and results in energy loss and less production. With the advancement of IoT, smart devices and sensors makes it easier to control the climate inside the chamber and monitor the process which results in energy saving and improved production (Fig.  9 ). Automatization of industries is another advantage of IoT. IoT has been providing game changing solutions for factory digitalization, inventory management, quality control, logistics and supply chain optimization and management.

figure 9

A working structure of IoT system in agriculture production

Importance of big data analytics in IoT

An IoT system comprises of a huge number of devices and sensors that communicates with each other. With the extensive growth and expansion of IoT network, the number of these sensors and devices are increasing rapidly. These devices communicate with each other and transfer a massive amount of data over internet. This data is very huge and streaming every second and thus qualified to be called as big data. Continuous expansion of IoT based networks gives rise to complex issue such as management and collection of data, storage and processing and analytics. IoT big data framework for smart buildings is very useful to deal with several issues of smart buildings such as managing oxygen level, to measure the smoke/hazardous gases and luminosity [ 59 ]. Such framework is capable to collect the data from the sensors installed in the buildings and performs data analytics for decision making. Moreover, industrial production can be improved using an IoT based cyber physical system that is equipped with an information analysis and knowledge acquisition techniques [ 60 ]. Traffic congestion is an important issue with smart cities. The real time traffic information can be collected through IoT devices and sensors installed in traffic signals and this information can be analyzed in an IoT based traffic management system [ 61 ]. In healthcare analysis, the IoT sensors used with patients generate a lot of information about the health condition of patients every second. This large amount of information needs to be integrated at one database and must be processed in real time to take quick decision with high accuracy and big data technology is the best solution for this job [ 62 ]. IoT along with big data analytics can also help to transform the traditional approaches used in manufacturing industries into the modern one [ 63 ]. The sensing devices generates information which can be analyzed using big data approaches and may help in various decision making tasks. Furthermore, use of cloud computing and analytics can benefit the energy development and conservation with reduced cost and customer satisfaction [ 64 ]. IoT devices generate a huge amount of streaming data which needs to be stored effectively and needs further analysis for decision making in real time. Deep learning is very effective to deal with such a large information and can provide results with high accuracy [ 65 ]. Therefore, IoT, Big data analytics and Deep learning together is very important to develop a high tech society.

Conclusions

Recent advancements in IoT have drawn attention of researchers and developers worldwide. IoT developers and researchers are working together to extend the technology on large scale and to benefit the society to the highest possible level. However, improvements are possible only if we consider the various issues and shortcomings in the present technical approaches. In this survey article, we presented several issues and challenges that IoT developer must take into account to develop an improved model. Also, important application areas of IoT is also discussed where IoT developers and researchers are engaged. As IoT is not only providing services but also generates a huge amount of data. Hence, the importance of big data analytics is also discussed which can provide accurate decisions that could be utilized to develop an improved IoT system.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Abbreviations

Internet of Things

Quality of Service

Web of Things

Cloud of Things

Smart Home System

Smart Health Sensing System

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This work was financially supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of Russian Federation (government order 2.7905.2017/8.9).

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Kumar, S., Tiwari, P. & Zymbler, M. Internet of Things is a revolutionary approach for future technology enhancement: a review. J Big Data 6 , 111 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40537-019-0268-2

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Glaciers Are Disappearing at an Unprecedented Rate

Kepler, the father of science fiction, openmind books, scientific anniversaries, eclipses to illuminate science, featured author, latest book, the impact of the internet on society: a global perspective, introduction.

The Internet is the decisive technology of the Information Age, as the electrical engine was the vector of technological transformation of the Industrial Age. This global network of computer networks, largely based nowadays on platforms of wireless communication, provides ubiquitous capacity of multimodal, interactive communication in chosen time, transcending space. The Internet is not really a new technology: its ancestor, the Arpanet, was first deployed in 1969 (Abbate 1999). But it was in the 1990s when it was privatized and released from the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce that it diffused around the world at extraordinary speed: in 1996 the first survey of Internet users counted about 40 million; in 2013 they are over 2.5 billion, with China accounting for the largest number of Internet users. Furthermore, for some time the spread of the Internet was limited by the difficulty to lay out land-based telecommunications infrastructure in the emerging countries. This has changed with the explosion of wireless communication in the early twenty-first century. Indeed, in 1991, there were about 16 million subscribers of wireless devices in the world, in 2013 they are close to 7 billion (in a planet of 7.7 billion human beings). Counting on the family and village uses of mobile phones, and taking into consideration the limited use of these devices among children under five years of age, we can say that humankind is now almost entirely connected, albeit with great levels of inequality in the bandwidth as well as in the efficiency and price of the service.

At the heart of these communication networks the Internet ensures the production, distribution, and use of digitized information in all formats. According to the study published by Martin Hilbert in Science (Hilbert and López 2011), 95 percent of all information existing in the planet is digitized and most of it is accessible on the Internet and other computer networks.

The speed and scope of the transformation of our communication environment by Internet and wireless communication has triggered all kind of utopian and dystopian perceptions around the world.

As in all moments of major technological change, people, companies, and institutions feel the depth of the change, but they are often overwhelmed by it, out of sheer ignorance of its effects.

The media aggravate the distorted perception by dwelling into scary reports on the basis of anecdotal observation and biased commentary. If there is a topic in which social sciences, in their diversity, should contribute to the full understanding of the world in which we live, it is precisely the area that has come to be named in academia as Internet Studies. Because, in fact, academic research knows a great deal on the interaction between Internet and society, on the basis of methodologically rigorous empirical research conducted in a plurality of cultural and institutional contexts. Any process of major technological change generates its own mythology. In part because it comes into practice before scientists can assess its effects and implications, so there is always a gap between social change and its understanding. For instance, media often report that intense use of the Internet increases the risk of alienation, isolation, depression, and withdrawal from society. In fact, available evidence shows that there is either no relationship or a positive cumulative relationship between the Internet use and the intensity of sociability. We observe that, overall, the more sociable people are, the more they use the Internet. And the more they use the Internet, the more they increase their sociability online and offline, their civic engagement, and the intensity of family and friendship relationships, in all cultures—with the exception of a couple of early studies of the Internet in the 1990s, corrected by their authors later (Castells 2001; Castells et al. 2007; Rainie and Wellman 2012; Center for the Digital Future 2012 et al.).

Thus, the purpose of this chapter will be to summarize some of the key research findings on the social effects of the Internet relying on the evidence provided by some of the major institutions specialized in the social study of the Internet. More specifically, I will be using the data from the world at large: the World Internet Survey conducted by the Center for the Digital Future, University of Southern California; the reports of the British Computer Society (BCS), using data from the World Values Survey of the University of Michigan; the Nielsen reports for a variety of countries; and the annual reports from the International Telecommunications Union. For data on the United States, I have used the Pew American Life and Internet Project of the Pew Institute. For the United Kingdom, the Oxford Internet Survey from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, as well as the Virtual Society Project from the Economic and Social Science Research Council. For Spain, the Project Internet Catalonia of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC); the various reports on the information society from Telefónica; and from the Orange Foundation. For Portugal, the Observatório de Sociedade da Informação e do Conhecimento (OSIC) in Lisbon. I would like to emphasize that most of the data in these reports converge toward similar trends. Thus I have selected for my analysis the findings that complement and reinforce each other, offering a consistent picture of the human experience on the Internet in spite of the human diversity.

Given the aim of this publication to reach a broad audience, I will not present in this text the data supporting the analysis presented here. Instead, I am referring the interested reader to the web sources of the research organizations mentioned above, as well as to selected bibliographic references discussing the empirical foundation of the social trends reported here.

Technologies of Freedom, the Network Society, and the Culture of Autonomy

In order to fully understand the effects of the Internet on society, we should remember that technology is material culture. It is produced in a social process in a given institutional environment on the basis of the ideas, values, interests, and knowledge of their producers, both their early producers and their subsequent producers. In this process we must include the users of the technology, who appropriate and adapt the technology rather than adopting it, and by so doing they modify it and produce it in an endless process of interaction between technological production and social use. So, to assess the relevance of Internet in society we must recall the specific characteristics of Internet as a technology. Then we must place it in the context of the transformation of the overall social structure, as well as in relationship to the culture characteristic of this social structure. Indeed, we live in a new social structure, the global network society, characterized by the rise of a new culture, the culture of autonomy.

Internet is a technology of freedom, in the terms coined by Ithiel de Sola Pool in 1973, coming from a libertarian culture, paradoxically financed by the Pentagon for the benefit of scientists, engineers, and their students, with no direct military application in mind (Castells 2001). The expansion of the Internet from the mid-1990s onward resulted from the combination of three main factors:

  • The technological discovery of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee and his willingness to distribute the source code to improve it by the open-source contribution of a global community of users, in continuity with the openness of the TCP/IP Internet protocols. The web keeps running under the same principle of open source. And two-thirds of web servers are operated by Apache, an open-source server program.
  • Institutional change in the management of the Internet, keeping it under the loose management of the global Internet community, privatizing it, and allowing both commercial uses and cooperative uses.
  • Major changes in social structure, culture, and social behavior: networking as a prevalent organizational form; individuation as the main orientation of social behavior; and the culture of autonomy as the culture of the network society.

I will elaborate on these major trends.

Our society is a network society; that is, a society constructed around personal and organizational networks powered by digital networks and communicated by the Internet. And because networks are global and know no boundaries, the network society is a global network society. This historically specific social structure resulted from the interaction between the emerging technological paradigm based on the digital revolution and some major sociocultural changes. A primary dimension of these changes is what has been labeled the rise of the Me-centered society, or, in sociological terms, the process of individuation, the decline of community understood in terms of space, work, family, and ascription in general. This is not the end of community, and not the end of place-based interaction, but there is a shift toward the reconstruction of social relationships, including strong cultural and personal ties that could be considered a form of community, on the basis of individual interests, values, and projects.

The process of individuation is not just a matter of cultural evolution, it is materially produced by the new forms of organizing economic activities, and social and political life, as I analyzed in my trilogy on the Information Age (Castells 1996–2003). It is based on the transformation of space (metropolitan life), work and economic activity (rise of the networked enterprise and networked work processes), culture and communication (shift from mass communication based on mass media to mass self-communication based on the Internet); on the crisis of the patriarchal family, with increasing autonomy of its individual members; the substitution of media politics for mass party politics; and globalization as the selective networking of places and processes throughout the planet.

But individuation does not mean isolation, or even less the end of community. Sociability is reconstructed as networked individualism and community through a quest for like-minded individuals in a process that combines online interaction with offline interaction, cyberspace and the local space. Individuation is the key process in constituting subjects (individual or collective), networking is the organizational form constructed by these subjects; this is the network society, and the form of sociability is what Rainie and Wellman (2012) conceptualized as networked individualism. Network technologies are of course the medium for this new social structure and this new culture (Papacharissi 2010).

As stated above, academic research has established that the Internet does not isolate people, nor does it reduce their sociability; it actually increases sociability, as shown by myself in my studies in Catalonia (Castells 2007), Rainie and Wellman in the United States (2012), Cardoso in Portugal (2010), and the World Internet Survey for the world at large (Center for the Digital Future 2012 et al.). Furthermore, a major study by Michael Willmott for the British Computer Society (Trajectory Partnership 2010) has shown a positive correlation, for individuals and for countries, between the frequency and intensity of the use of the Internet and the psychological indicators of personal happiness. He used global data for 35,000 people obtained from the World Wide Survey of the University of Michigan from 2005 to 2007. Controlling for other factors, the study showed that Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom, and influence, all feelings that have a positive effect on happiness and personal well-being. The effect is particularly positive for people with lower income and who are less qualified, for people in the developing world, and for women. Age does not affect the positive relationship; it is significant for all ages. Why women? Because they are at the center of the network of their families, Internet helps them to organize their lives. Also, it helps them to overcome their isolation, particularly in patriarchal societies. The Internet also contributes to the rise of the culture of autonomy.

The key for the process of individuation is the construction of autonomy by social actors, who become subjects in the process. They do so by defining their specific projects in interaction with, but not submission to, the institutions of society. This is the case for a minority of individuals, but because of their capacity to lead and mobilize they introduce a new culture in every domain of social life: in work (entrepreneurship), in the media (the active audience), in the Internet (the creative user), in the market (the informed and proactive consumer), in education (students as informed critical thinkers, making possible the new frontier of e-learning and m-learning pedagogy), in health (the patient-centered health management system) in e-government (the informed, participatory citizen), in social movements (cultural change from the grassroots, as in feminism or environmentalism), and in politics (the independent-minded citizen able to participate in self-generated political networks).

There is increasing evidence of the direct relationship between the Internet and the rise of social autonomy. From 2002 to 2007 I directed in Catalonia one of the largest studies ever conducted in Europe on the Internet and society, based on 55,000 interviews, one-third of them face to face (IN3 2002–07). As part of this study, my collaborators and I compared the behavior of Internet users to non-Internet users in a sample of 3,000 people, representative of the population of Catalonia. Because in 2003 only about 40 percent of people were Internet users we could really compare the differences in social behavior for users and non-users, something that nowadays would be more difficult given the 79 percent penetration rate of the Internet in Catalonia. Although the data are relatively old, the findings are not, as more recent studies in other countries (particularly in Portugal) appear to confirm the observed trends. We constructed scales of autonomy in different dimensions. Only between 10 and 20 percent of the population, depending on dimensions, were in the high level of autonomy. But we focused on this active segment of the population to explore the role of the Internet in the construction of autonomy. Using factor analysis we identified six major types of autonomy based on projects of individuals according to their practices:

a) professional development b) communicative autonomy c) entrepreneurship d) autonomy of the body e) sociopolitical participation f) personal, individual autonomy

These six types of autonomous practices were statistically independent among themselves. But each one of them correlated positively with Internet use in statistically significant terms, in a self-reinforcing loop (time sequence): the more one person was autonomous, the more she/he used the web, and the more she/he used the web, the more autonomous she/he became (Castells et al. 2007). This is a major empirical finding. Because if the dominant cultural trend in our society is the search for autonomy, and if the Internet powers this search, then we are moving toward a society of assertive individuals and cultural freedom, regardless of the barriers of rigid social organizations inherited from the Industrial Age. From this Internet-based culture of autonomy have emerged a new kind of sociability, networked sociability, and a new kind of sociopolitical practice, networked social movements and networked democracy. I will now turn to the analysis of these two fundamental trends at the source of current processes of social change worldwide.

The Rise of Social Network Sites on the Internet

Since 2002 (creation of Friendster, prior to Facebook) a new socio-technical revolution has taken place on the Internet: the rise of social network sites where now all human activities are present, from personal interaction to business, to work, to culture, to communication, to social movements, and to politics.

Social Network Sites are web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.

(Boyd and Ellison 2007, 2)

Social networking uses, in time globally spent, surpassed e-mail in November 2007. It surpassed e-mail in number of users in July 2009. In terms of users it reached 1 billion by September 2010, with Facebook accounting for about half of it. In 2013 it has almost doubled, particularly because of increasing use in China, India, and Latin America. There is indeed a great diversity of social networking sites (SNS) by countries and cultures. Facebook, started for Harvard-only members in 2004, is present in most of the world, but QQ, Cyworld, and Baidu dominate in China; Orkut in Brazil; Mixi in Japan; etc. In terms of demographics, age is the main differential factor in the use of SNS, with a drop of frequency of use after 50 years of age, and particularly 65. But this is not just a teenager’s activity. The main Facebook U.S. category is in the age group 35–44, whose frequency of use of the site is higher than for younger people. Nearly 60 percent of adults in the U.S. have at least one SNS profile, 30 percent two, and 15 percent three or more. Females are as present as males, except when in a society there is a general gender gap. We observe no differences in education and class, but there is some class specialization of SNS, such as Myspace being lower than FB; LinkedIn is for professionals.

Thus, the most important activity on the Internet at this point in time goes through social networking, and SNS have become the chosen platforms for all kind of activities, not just personal friendships or chatting, but for marketing, e-commerce, education, cultural creativity, media and entertainment distribution, health applications, and sociopolitical activism. This is a significant trend for society at large. Let me explore the meaning of this trend on the basis of the still scant evidence.

Social networking sites are constructed by users themselves building on specific criteria of grouping. There is entrepreneurship in the process of creating sites, then people choose according to their interests and projects. Networks are tailored by people themselves with different levels of profiling and privacy. The key to success is not anonymity, but on the contrary, self-presentation of a real person connecting to real people (in some cases people are excluded from the SNS when they fake their identity). So, it is a self-constructed society by networking connecting to other networks. But this is not a virtual society. There is a close connection between virtual networks and networks in life at large. This is a hybrid world, a real world, not a virtual world or a segregated world.

People build networks to be with others, and to be with others they want to be with on the basis of criteria that include those people who they already know (a selected sub-segment). Most users go on the site every day. It is permanent connectivity. If we needed an answer to what happened to sociability in the Internet world, here it is:

There is a dramatic increase in sociability, but a different kind of sociability, facilitated and dynamized by permanent connectivity and social networking on the web.

Based on the time when Facebook was still releasing data (this time is now gone) we know that in 2009 users spent 500 billion minutes per month. This is not just about friendship or interpersonal communication. People do things together, share, act, exactly as in society, although the personal dimension is always there. Thus, in the U.S. 38 percent of adults share content, 21 percent remix, 14 percent blog, and this is growing exponentially, with development of technology, software, and SNS entrepreneurial initiatives. On Facebook, in 2009 the average user was connected to 60 pages, groups, and events, people interacted per month to 160 million objects (pages, groups, events), the average user created 70 pieces of content per month, and there were 25 billion pieces of content shared per month (web links, news stories, blogs posts, notes, photos). SNS are living spaces connecting all dimensions of people’s experience. This transforms culture because people share experience with a low emotional cost, while saving energy and effort. They transcend time and space, yet they produce content, set up links, and connect practices. It is a constantly networked world in every dimension of human experience. They co-evolve in permanent, multiple interaction. But they choose the terms of their co-evolution.

Thus, people live their physical lives but increasingly connect on multiple dimensions in SNS.

Paradoxically, the virtual life is more social than the physical life, now individualized by the organization of work and urban living.

But people do not live a virtual reality, indeed it is a real virtuality, since social practices, sharing, mixing, and living in society is facilitated in the virtuality, in what I called time ago the “space of flows” (Castells 1996).

Because people are increasingly at ease in the multi-textuality and multidimensionality of the web, marketers, work organizations, service agencies, government, and civil society are migrating massively to the Internet, less and less setting up alternative sites, more and more being present in the networks that people construct by themselves and for themselves, with the help of Internet social networking entrepreneurs, some of whom become billionaires in the process, actually selling freedom and the possibility of the autonomous construction of lives. This is the liberating potential of the Internet made material practice by these social networking sites. The largest of these social networking sites are usually bounded social spaces managed by a company. However, if the company tries to impede free communication it may lose many of its users, because the entry barriers in this industry are very low. A couple of technologically savvy youngsters with little capital can set up a site on the Internet and attract escapees from a more restricted Internet space, as happened to AOL and other networking sites of the first generation, and as could happen to Facebook or any other SNS if they are tempted to tinker with the rules of openness (Facebook tried to make users pay and retracted within days). So, SNS are often a business, but they are in the business of selling freedom, free expression, chosen sociability. When they tinker with this promise they risk their hollowing by net citizens migrating with their friends to more friendly virtual lands.

Perhaps the most telling expression of this new freedom is the transformation of sociopolitical practices on the Internet.

Communication Power: Mass-Self Communication and the Transformation of Politics

Power and counterpower, the foundational relationships of society, are constructed in the human mind, through the construction of meaning and the processing of information according to certain sets of values and interests (Castells 2009).

Ideological apparatuses and the mass media have been key tools of mediating communication and asserting power, and still are. But the rise of a new culture, the culture of autonomy, has found in Internet and mobile communication networks a major medium of mass self-communication and self-organization.

The key source for the social production of meaning is the process of socialized communication. I define communication as the process of sharing meaning through the exchange of information. Socialized communication is the one that exists in the public realm, that has the potential of reaching society at large. Therefore, the battle over the human mind is largely played out in the process of socialized communication. And this is particularly so in the network society, the social structure of the Information Age, which is characterized by the pervasiveness of communication networks in a multimodal hypertext.

The ongoing transformation of communication technology in the digital age extends the reach of communication media to all domains of social life in a network that is at the same time global and local, generic and customized, in an ever-changing pattern.

As a result, power relations, that is the relations that constitute the foundation of all societies, as well as the processes challenging institutionalized power relations, are increasingly shaped and decided in the communication field. Meaningful, conscious communication is what makes humans human. Thus, any major transformation in the technology and organization of communication is of utmost relevance for social change. Over the last four decades the advent of the Internet and of wireless communication has shifted the communication process in society at large from mass communication to mass self-communication. This is from a message sent from one to many with little interactivity to a system based on messages from many to many, multimodal, in chosen time, and with interactivity, so that senders are receivers and receivers are senders. And both have access to a multimodal hypertext in the web that constitutes the endlessly changing backbone of communication processes.

The transformation of communication from mass communication to mass self-communication has contributed decisively to alter the process of social change. As power relationships have always been based on the control of communication and information that feed the neural networks constitutive of the human mind, the rise of horizontal networks of communication has created a new landscape of social and political change by the process of disintermediation of the government and corporate controls over communication. This is the power of the network, as social actors build their own networks on the basis of their projects, values, and interests. The outcome of these processes is open ended and dependent on specific contexts. Freedom, in this case freedom of communicate, does not say anything on the uses of freedom in society. This is to be established by scholarly research. But we need to start from this major historical phenomenon: the building of a global communication network based on the Internet, a technology that embodies the culture of freedom that was at its source.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century there have been multiple social movements around the world that have used the Internet as their space of formation and permanent connectivity, among the movements and with society at large. These networked social movements, formed in the social networking sites on the Internet, have mobilized in the urban space and in the institutional space, inducing new forms of social movements that are the main actors of social change in the network society. Networked social movements have been particularly active since 2010, and especially in the Arab revolutions against dictatorships; in Europe and the U.S. as forms of protest against the management of the financial crisis; in Brazil; in Turkey; in Mexico; and in highly diverse institutional contexts and economic conditions. It is precisely the similarity of the movements in extremely different contexts that allows the formulation of the hypothesis that this is the pattern of social movements characteristic of the global network society. In all cases we observe the capacity of these movements for self-organization, without a central leadership, on the basis of a spontaneous emotional movement. In all cases there is a connection between Internet-based communication, mobile networks, and the mass media in different forms, feeding into each other and amplifying the movement locally and globally.

These movements take place in the context of exploitation and oppression, social tensions and social struggles; but struggles that were not able to successfully challenge the state in other instances of revolt are now powered by the tools of mass self-communication. It is not the technology that induces the movements, but without the technology (Internet and wireless communication) social movements would not take the present form of being a challenge to state power. The fact is that technology is material culture (ideas brought into the design) and the Internet materialized the culture of freedom that, as it has been documented, emerged on American campuses in the 1960s. This culture-made technology is at the source of the new wave of social movements that exemplify the depth of the global impact of the Internet in all spheres of social organization, affecting particularly power relationships, the foundation of the institutions of society. (See case studies and an analytical perspective on the interaction between Internet and networked social movements in Castells 2012.)

The Internet, as all technologies, does not produce effects by itself. Yet, it has specific effects in altering the capacity of the communication system to be organized around flows that are interactive, multimodal, asynchronous or synchronous, global or local, and from many to many, from people to people, from people to objects, and from objects to objects, increasingly relying on the semantic web. How these characteristics affect specific systems of social relationships has to be established by research, and this is what I tried to present in this text. What is clear is that without the Internet we would not have seen the large-scale development of networking as the fundamental mechanism of social structuring and social change in every domain of social life. The Internet, the World Wide Web, and a variety of networks increasingly based on wireless platforms constitute the technological infrastructure of the network society, as the electrical grid and the electrical engine were the support system for the form of social organization that we conceptualized as the industrial society. Thus, as a social construction, this technological system is open ended, as the network society is an open-ended form of social organization that conveys the best and the worse in humankind. Yet, the global network society is our society, and the understanding of its logic on the basis of the interaction between culture, organization, and technology in the formation and development of social and technological networks is a key field of research in the twenty-first century.

We can only make progress in our understanding through the cumulative effort of scholarly research. Only then we will be able to cut through the myths surrounding the key technology of our time. A digital communication technology that is already a second skin for young people, yet it continues to feed the fears and the fantasies of those who are still in charge of a society that they barely understand.

These references are in fact sources of more detailed references specific to each one of the topics analyzed in this text.

Abbate, Janet. A Social History of the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Boyd, Danah M., and Nicole B. Ellison. “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13, no. 1 (2007).

Cardoso, Gustavo, Angus Cheong, and Jeffrey Cole (eds). World Wide Internet: Changing Societies, Economies and Cultures. Macau: University of Macau Press, 2009.

Castells, Manuel. The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. 3 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996–2003.

———. The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

———. Communication Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

———. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012.

Castells, Manuel, Imma Tubella, Teresa Sancho, and Meritxell Roca.

La transición a la sociedad red. Barcelona: Ariel, 2007.

Hilbert, Martin, and Priscilla López. “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information.” Science 332, no. 6025 (April 1, 2011): pp. 60–65.

Papacharissi, Zizi, ed. The Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Networking Sites. Routledge, 2010.

Rainie. Lee, and Barry Wellman. Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Trajectory Partnership (Michael Willmott and Paul Flatters). The Information Dividend: Why IT Makes You “Happier.” Swindon: British Informatics Society Limited, 2010. http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/info-dividend-full-report.pdf

Selected Web References.   Used as sources for analysis in the chapter

Agência para a Sociedade do Conhecimento. “Observatório de Sociedade da Informação e do Conhecimento (OSIC).” http://www.umic.pt/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3026&Itemid=167

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. “Features, Press and Policy.” http://www.bcs.org/category/7307

Center for the Digital Future. The World Internet Project International Report. 4th ed. Los Angeles: USC Annenberg School, Center for the Digital Future, 2012. http://www.worldinternetproject.net/_files/_Published/_oldis/770_2012wip_report4th_ed.pdf

ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council). “Papers and Reports.” Virtual Society. http://virtualsociety.sbs.ox.ac.uk/reports.htm

Fundación Orange. “Análisis y Prospectiva: Informe eEspaña.” Fundación Orange. http://fundacionorange.es/fundacionorange/analisisprospectiva.html

Fundación Telefónica. “Informes SI.” Fundación Telefónica. http://sociedadinformacion.fundacion.telefonica.com/DYC/SHI/InformesSI/seccion=1190&idioma=es_ES.do

IN3 (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute). UOC. “Project Internet Catalonia (PIC): An Overview.” Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, 2002–07. http://www.uoc.edu/in3/pic/eng/

International Telecommunication Union. “Annual Reports.” http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/sfo/annual_reports/index.html

Nielsen Company. “Reports.” 2013. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/reports/2013.html?tag=Category:Media+ and+Entertainment

Oxford Internet Surveys. “Publications.” http://microsites.oii.ox.ac.uk/oxis/publications

Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Social Networking.” Pew Internet. http://www.pewinternet.org/Topics/Activities-and-Pursuits/Social-Networking.aspx?typeFilter=5

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The Internet, Politics and the Politics of Internet Debate

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The Internet is a vast global system of interconnected technical networks made up of heterogeneous information and communication technologies. It is also a social and economic assemblage that allows diverse forms of communication, creativity, and cultural exchange at a scope and scale unknown before the late twentieth century.

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The terms Internet and net are often used when discussing the social implications of new information technologies, such as the creation of new communal bonds across great distances or new forms of wealth and inequality. Such a usage is imprecise: The Internet is distinct from the applications and technologies that are built upon it, such as e-mail, the World Wide Web, online gaming, filesharing networks, and e-commerce and e-governance initiatives. There are also many networks that are or were once distinct from the Internet, such as mobile telephone networks and electronic financial networks.

Stated more precisely, the Internet is an infrastructural substrate that possesses innovative social, cultural, and economic features allowing creativity (or innovation) based on openness and a particular standardization process. It is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for many of the social and cultural implications often attributed to it. Understanding the particularity of the Internet can be key to differentiating its implications and potential impact on society from the impacts of “information technology” and computers more generally.

History and Structure of the Internet

The Internet developed through military, university, corporate, and amateur user innovations occurring more or less constantly beginning in the late 1960s. Despite its complexity, it is unlike familiar complex technical objects—for example, a jumbo jetliner—that are designed, tested, and refined by a strict hierarchy of experts who attempt to possess a complete overview of the object and its final state. By contrast, the Internet has been subject to innovation, experimentation, and refinement by a much less well-defined collective of diverse users with wide-ranging goals and interests.

In 1968 the Internet was known as the ARPAnet, named for its principal funding agency, the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). It was a small but extensive research project organized by the Information Processing Techniques Office at ARPA that focused on advanced concepts in computing, specifically graphics, time-sharing, and networking. The primary goal of the network was to allow separate administratively bounded resources (computers and software at particular geographical sites) to be shared across those boundaries, without forcing standardization across all of them. The participants were primarily university researchers in computer and engineering departments. Separate experiments in networking, both corporate and academic, were also under way during this period, such as the creation of “Ethernet” by Robert Metcalfe at Xerox PARC and the X.25 network protocols standardized by the International Telecommunications Union.

By 1978 the ARPAnet had grown to encompass dozens of universities and military research sites in the United States. At this point the project leaders at ARPA recognized a need for a specific kind of standardization to keep the network feasible, namely a common operating system and networking software that could run on all of the diverse hardware connected to the network. Based on its widespread adoption in the 1970s, the UNIX operating system was chosen by ARPA as one official platform for the Internet. UNIX was known for its portability (ability to be installed on different kinds of hardware) and extensibility (ease with which new components could be added to the core system). Bill Joy (who later cofounded Sun Microsystems) is credited with the first widespread implementation of the Internet Protocol (IP) software in a UNIX operating system, a version known as Berkeley Systems Distribution (BSD).

The Internet officially began (in name and in practice) in 1983, the date set by an ad hoc group of engineers known as the Network Working Group (NWG) as the deadline for all connected computers to begin using the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocols. These protocols were originally designed in 1973 and consistently improved over the ensuing ten years, but only in 1983 did they become the protocols that would define the Internet. At roughly the same time, ARPA and the Department of Defense split the existing ARPAnet in two, keeping “Milnet” for sensitive military use and leaving ARPAnet for research purposes and for civilian uses.

From 1983 to 1993, in addition to being a research network, the Internet became an underground, subcultural phenomenon, familiar to amateur computer enthusiasts, university students and faculty, and “hackers.” The Internet’s glamour was largely associated with the arcane nature of interaction it demanded—largely text-based, and demanding access to and knowledge of the UNIX operating system. Thus, owners of the more widespread personal computers made by IBM and Apple were largely excluded from the Internet (though a number of other similar networks such as Bulletin Board Services, BITNet, and FidoNET existed for PC users).

A very large number of amateur computer enthusiasts discovered the Internet during this period, either through university courses or through friends, and there are many user-initiated innovations that date to this period, ranging from games (e.g., MUDs, or Multi-User Dungeons) to programming and scripting languages (e.g., Perl, created by Larry Wall) to precursors of the World Wide Web (e.g., WAIS, Archie, and Gopher). During this period, the network was overseen and funded by the National Science Foundation, which invested heavily in improving the basic infrastructure of fiberoptic “backbones” in the United States in 1988. The oversight and management of the Internet was commercialized in 1995, with the backing of the presidential administration of Bill Clinton.

In 1993 the World Wide Web (originally designed by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland) and the graphical Mosaic Web Browser (created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois) brought the Internet to a much larger audience. Between 1993 and 2000 the “dot-com” boom drove the transformation of the Internet from an underground research phenomena to a nearly ubiquitous and essential technology with far-reaching effects. Commercial investment in infrastructure and in “web presence” saw explosive growth; new modes of interaction and communication (e.g., e-mail, Internet messaging, and mailing lists) proliferated; Uniform Resource Locators (URLs, such as www.britannica.com) became a common (and highly valued) feature of advertisements and corporate identity; and artists, scientists, citizens, and others took up the challenge of both using and understanding the new medium.

Protocols and the Internet Standards Process

The core technical components of the Internet are standardized protocols, not hardware or software, strictly speaking—though obviously it would not have spread so extensively without the innovations in microelectronics, the continual enhancement of telecommunications infrastructures around the globe, and the growth in ownership and use of personal computers over the last twenty years. Protocols make the “inter” in the Internet possible by allowing a huge number of nonoverlapping and incompatible networks to become compatible and to route data across all of them.

The key protocols, known as TCP/IP, were designed in 1973 by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn. Other key protocols, such as the Domain Name System (DNS) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP), came later. These protocols have to be implemented in software (such as in the UNIX operating system described above) to allow computers to interconnect. They are essentially standards with which hardware and software implementations must comply in order for any type of hardware or software to connect to the Internet and communicate with any other hardware and software that does the same. They can best be understood as a kind of technical Esperanto.

The Internet protocols differ from traditional standards because of the unconventional social process by which they are developed, validated, and improved. The Internet protocols are elaborated in a set of openly available documents known as Requests for Comments (RFCs), which are maintained by a loose federation of engineers called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF, the successor to the Network Working Group). The IETF is an organization open to individuals (unlike large standards organizations that typically accept only national or corporate representatives) that distributes RFCs free of charge and encourages members to implement protocols and to improve them based on their experiences and users’ responses. The improved protocol then may be released for further implementation.

This “positive feedback loop” differs from most “consensus-oriented” standardization processes (e.g., those of international organizations such as ISO, the International Organization for Standardization) that seek to achieve a final and complete state before encouraging implementations. The relative ease with which one piece of software can be replaced with another is a key reason for this difference. During the 1970s and 1980s this system served the Internet well, allowing it to develop quickly, according to the needs of its users. By the 1990s, however, the scale of the Internet made innovation a slower and more difficult procedure—a fact that is most clearly demonstrated by the comparatively glacial speed with which the next generation of the Internet protocol (known as IP Version 6) has been implemented.

Ultimately, the IETF style of standardization process has become a common cultural reference point of engineers and expert users of the Internet, and has been applied not only to the Internet, but also to the production of applications and tools that rely on the Internet. The result is a starkly different mode of innovation and sharing that is best exemplified by the growth and success of so-called “free software” or “open-source software.” Many of the core applications that are widely used on the Internet are developed in this fashion (famous examples include the Linux operating system kernel and the Apache Web Server).

Cultural, Social, and Economic Implications of the Internet

As a result of the unusual development process and the nature of the protocols, it has been relatively easy for the Internet to advance around the globe and to connect heterogeneous equipment in diverse settings, wherever there are willing and enthusiastic users with sufficient technical know-how. The major impediment to doing so is the reliability (or mere existence) of preexisting infrastructural components such as working energy and telecommunications infrastructures. Between 1968 and 1993 this expansion was not conducted at a national or state level, but by individuals and organizations who saw local benefit in expanding access to the global network. If a university computer science department could afford to devote some resources to computers dedicated to routing traffic and connections, then all the researchers in a department could join the network without needing permission from any centralized state authority. It was not until the late 1990s that Internet governance became an issue that concerned governments and citizens around the world. In particular, the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been the locus of fractious dispute, especially in international arenas. ICANN’s narrow role is to assign IP numbers (e.g., 192.168.0.1) and the names they map to (e.g., www.wikipedia.org), but it has been perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an instrument of U.S. control over the Internet.

With each expansion of the Internet, issues of privacy, security, and organizational (or national) authority have become more pressing. At its outset the Internet protocols sought to prioritize control within administrative boundaries, leaving rules governing use to the local network owners. Such a scheme obviated the need for a central authority that determined global rules about access, public/private boundaries, and priority of use. With the advent of widespread commercial access, however, such local control has been severely diluted, and the possibility for individual mischief (e.g., identity theft, spam, and other privacy violations) has increased with increasing accessibility.

On the one hand, increased commercial access means a decline in local organized authority over parts of the Internet in favor of control of large segments by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunications/cable corporations. On the other hand, as the basic infrastructure of the Internet has spread, so have the practices and norms that were developed in concert with the technology—including everything from the proper way to configure a router, to norms of proper etiquette on mailing lists and for e-mail. Applications built on top of the Internet have often adopted such norms and modes of use, and promoted a culture of innovation, of “hacking” (someone who creates new software by employing a series of modifications that exploit or extend existing code or resources, with good or bad connotations depending on the context), and of communal sharing of software, protocols, and tools.

It is thus important to realize that although most users do not experience the Internet directly, the development of the particular forms of innovation and openness that characterize the Internet also characterize the more familiar applications built on top of it, due to the propagation of these norms and modes of engineering. There is often, therefore, a significant difference between innovations that owe their genesis to the Internet and those developed in the personal computer industry, the so-called “proprietary” software industry, and in distinct commercial network infrastructures (e.g., the SABRE system for airline reservations, or the MOST network for credit card transactions). The particularity of the Internet leads to different implications and potential impact on society than the impacts of “information technology” or computers more generally.

Digital Music, Film, and Intellectual Property

One of the most widely discussed and experienced implications of the Internet is the effect on the culture industries, especially music and film. As with previous media (e.g., video and audio cassette recorders), it is the intersection of technology and intellectual property that is responsible for the controversy. Largely due to its “openness,” the Internet creates the possibility for low-cost and extremely broad and fast distribution of cultural materials, from online books to digital music and film. At the same time, it also creates the possibility for broad and fast violation of intellectual property rights—rights that have been strengthened considerably by the copyright act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998).

The result is a cultural battle over the meaning of “sharing” music and movies, and the degree to which such sharing is criminal. The debates have been polarized between a “war on piracy” on the one hand (with widely varying figures concerning the economic losses), and “consumer freedom” on the other—rights to copy, share, and trade purchased music. The cultural implication of this war is a tension among the entertainment industry, the artists and musicians, and the consumers of music and film. Because the openness of the Internet makes it easier than ever for artists to distribute their work, many see a potential for direct remuneration, and cheaper and more immediate access for consumers. The entertainment industry, by contrast, argues that it provides more services and quality—not to mention more funding and capital—and that it creates jobs and contributes to a growing economy. In both cases, the investments are protected primarily by the mechanism of intellectual property law, and are easily diluted by illicit copying and distribution. And yet, it is unclear where to draw a line between legitimate sharing (which might also be a form of marketing) and illegitimate sharing (“piracy,” according to the industry).

The Digital Divide

A key question about the Internet is that of social equity and access. The term digital divide has been used primarily to indicate the differential in individual access to the Internet, or in computer literacy, between rich and poor, or between developed and developing nations. A great deal of research has gone into understanding inequality of access to the Internet, and estimates of both differential access and the rate of the spread of access have varied extremely widely, depending on methodology. It is, however, clear from the statistics that between 1996 and 2005 the rate of growth in usage has been consistently greater than 100 percent in almost all regions of the globe at some times, and in some places it has reached annual growth rates of 500 percent or more. Aside from the conclusion that the growth in access to the Internet has been fantastically rapid, there are few sure facts about differential access.

There are, however, a number of more refined questions that researchers have begun investigating: Is the quantity or rate of growth in access to the Internet larger or smaller than in the case of other media (e.g., television, print, and radio)? Are there significant differences within groups with access (e.g., class, race, or national differences in quality of access)? Does access actually enhance or change a person’s life chances or opportunities?

The implication of a digital divide (whether between nations and regions, or within them) primarily concerns the quality of information and the ability of individuals to use it to better their life chances. In local terms, this can affect development issues broadly (e.g., access to markets and government, democratic deliberation and participation, and access to education and employment opportunities); in global terms, differential access can affect the subjective understandings of issues ranging from religious intolerance to global warming and environmental issues to global geopolitics. Digital divides might also differ based on the political situation—such as in the case of the Chinese government’s attempt to censor access to politicized information, which in turn can affect the fate of cross-border investment and trade.

Bibliography:

  • Abbate, Janet. 1999. Inventing the Internet . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Castells, Manuel. 2001. The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • DiMaggio, Paul, Eszter Hargittai, Coral Celeste, and Steven 2004. Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use. In Social Inequality , ed. Kathryn Neckerman, 355–400. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Meuller, Milton. 2004. Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Norberg, Arthur L., and Judy E. O’Neill. 1996. Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962–1986 . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Schmidt, Susanne K., and Raymund Werle. 1997. Coordinating Technology: Studies in the International Standardization of Telecommunications . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Waldrop, M. Mitchell. 2001. The Dream Machine: JCR Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal . New York: Viking Penguin.
  • Weber, Steven. 2004. The Success of Open Source . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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What is Internet Research?

What is Internet Research

Internet research is the process of using the Internet to find information about a given topic. This can be done through search engines, such as Google or Bing, or by visiting specific websites that deal with the subject matter at hand. When conducting internet research, it is important to remember that not all sources are created equal. It is important to evaluate each source for its credibility and accuracy before using it as part of your research.

What are the Factors of Internet Research?

There are many factors to consider when conducting research on the internet. The following is a list of some important factors to keep in mind:

-The credibility of the source. It is important to make sure that the sources you are using are credible and reliable. This can be done by checking for credentials, reviews, and references.

You know What is Web Hosting . If you want to learn about it, then you can read this article. From this, you can gain lots of knowledge about it and technology.

Advantages of Using the Internet in Research

The internet has become an essential tool in many aspects of life, including research. There are a number of advantages to using the internet for research purposes.

One advantage is that it allows researchers to access a wealth of information that would otherwise be unavailable. The internet provides access to databases and journals that may not be available in physical libraries, making it possible to find more information on a given topic.

Another advantage is that the internet can be used to communicate with other researchers around the world. This can be done through email or social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. This communication can help build collaboration between researchers and lead to new insights or discoveries.

Disadvantages Of Using the Internet in Research

The internet has become an essential tool for many people in today’s society. However, the internet also has several disadvantages when it comes to research. One of the biggest disadvantages is that anyone can post anything on the internet, regardless of whether or not it is true. This means that there is a lot of false information on the internet, which can lead people astray if they are not careful.

What Type of Research is Internet Research?

Internet research is a type of research that is conducted online. This type of research can be done through search engines, social media, and other websites. Internet research is often used to gather information about a certain topic or to find out what people are saying about a certain subject.

What are Internet Research Skills?

Internet research skills are the ability to find, evaluate, and use information from the Internet. They involve using search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to find websites, evaluating the credibility of sources, and using information from sources to answer questions or solve problems.

Most people use Internet research skills every day without realizing it. For example, when you search for a recipe online or look up movie times, you are using Internet research skills.

How can I Learn Internet Research Skills?

The Internet is a vast resource of information, and being able to research online effectively can be a valuable skill. Whether you need to do research for school, work, or personal projects, there are some tips that can help you hone your internet research skills.

One way to become better at online research is to practice using different search engines. While Google is the most popular search engine, there are others like Bing and DuckDuckGo that can also be helpful. Try conducting searches on each one and see which results you prefer. You may also want to try using different keywords or phrases when doing your searches; this can give you different results and help you find what you’re looking for more easily.

Tips To Improve Your Internet Research Skills

How to become an internet research specialist.

The internet has become an increasingly important tool for conducting research. Not only does it provide access to a wealth of information, but it also offers a variety of research tools and resources. However, internet research can be a daunting task for inexperienced researchers. This training will demystify internet research and provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to conduct effective internet research. It will cover topics such as searching for information, critically evaluating sources, and using research tools and resources. By the end of this training, you will have a better understanding of how to conduct internet research and be better equipped to find the information you need.

An internet research specialist is responsible for conducting online research to support various projects and initiatives. This may include researching specific topics, compiling data and information, and conducting analysis. To become an internet research specialist, you will need to have strong research skills, be comfortable working with computers and technology, and be able to communicate your findings effectively. Here are a few tips on how to become an internet research specialist:

An important part of being an effective researcher is knowing how to find relevant information quickly and efficiently. This requires being able to use search engines effectively as well as having a good understanding of how to evaluate sources for credibility and relevance.

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Top 10 web hacking techniques of 2023

James Kettle

James Kettle

Director of Research

Published: 19 February 2024 at 14:31 UTC

Updated: 19 February 2024 at 15:58 UTC

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Welcome to the Top 10 Web Hacking Techniques of 2023, the 17th edition of our annual community-powered effort to identify the most innovative must-read web security research published in the last year.

This year, in response to our call for nominations the community submitted a record 68 entries , and cast votes to select 15 finalists. The finalists were then analysed over two weeks and voted on by an expert panel of researchers Nicolas Grégoire , Soroush Dalili , Filedescriptor , and myself to select the top ten new web hacking techniques of 2023! As usual, we haven't excluded our own research, but panellists can't vote for anything they're affiliated with.

The standard of competition has once again been extremely fierce, with many posts I personally rate failing to even survive the community vote. I highly recommend that everyone with time to spare peruse the entire nomination list , and we've added AI-generated summaries for every entry to help you evaluate which ones to dive into.

With all that said, let's start the countdown!

10. can I speak to your manager? hacking root EPP servers to take control of zones

In tenth place, we have a beautiful insight into some overlooked and incredibly valuable attack-surface. In can I speak to your manager? hacking root EPP servers to take control of zones , Sam Curry, Brett Buerhaus, Rhys Elsmore, and Shubham Shah give us a timeless lesson that critical internet infrastructure can be shockingly fragile, and the easiest route to hack something might be many layers away.

9. Cookie Crumbles: Breaking and Fixing Web Session Integrity

In ninth, Cookie Crumbles: Breaking and Fixing Web Session Integrity takes a harsh look at the state of web cookies from numerous angles. One standout technique is CSRF token fixation - a cousin of session fixation, which they use to exploit numerous authentication libraries, notably including popular PHP framework Symfony. If you want to perform a CSRF attack in 2024, read this paper. Excellent work from Marco Squarcina, Pedro Adão, Lorenzo Veronese and Matteo Maffei.

8. From Akamai to F5 to NTLM... with love.

In eighth place, From Akamai to F5 to NTLM... with love offers proof that HTTP Desync Attacks still haunt the internet. D3d's deadvolvo's work stands out thanks to a rich exploration of the research thought process, sharing the whole journey and capturing the sheer scope and impact of this bug class. Both vulnerable server vendors refuse to pay bounties, and instead rely on their exposed customers paying out bounties to incentivize this kind of research, which creates some interesting dynamics. Best not to think about it.

7. How I Hacked Microsoft Teams and got $150,000 in Pwn2Own

How I Hacked Microsoft Teams takes you through the conception and development of a $150,000 exploit chain. This presentation by Masato Kinugawa is meticulously crafted to let the reader rediscover the exploit themselves, so I won't spoil it by describing the techniques involved. Rather than introducing a novel class of attack, it's a holistic insight into his innovative approach to bypassing protections. I'd recommend everyone read it, but it's particularly worth reading if you want to find non-trivial bugs in Electron applications.

6. HTTP Request Splitting vulnerabilities exploitation

It's easy to under-estimate the scope of HTTP Request Splitting because frankly, it shouldn't exist in any mainstream server in 2023. However, nginx apparently thinks otherwise, making this vulnerability a common and high-impact goldmine for hackers. In HTTP Request Splitting vulnerabilities exploitation , Sergey Bobrov provides a broad range of case-studies showing creative pathways to maximum impact. You can expect this to remain valuable until nginx changes their position, or HTTP/1.1 fades out of existence. I'll write them an email.

5. Exploiting HTTP Parsers Inconsistencies

In fifth place, Exploiting HTTP Parsers Inconsistencies by Rafael da Costa Santos takes familiar parser confusion techniques and reapplies them in new contexts, discovering ACL bypasses, SSRF , cache poisoning, and of course WAF bypasses. It takes serious skill to make research look this easy.

4. PHP filter chains: file read from error-based oracle

In 2022, hash_kitten invented an extremely creative technique to leak the contents of files by repeatedly using PHP filters to trigger conditional out-of-memory exceptions, but the community struggled to replicate it and the technique largely escaped attention. In PHP filter chains: file read from error-based oracle , Rémi Matasse gives this amazing technique the in-depth explanation, optimisations, and accompanying toolkit that it so badly deserves. This technique is fascinating and we're intrigued to see if it gets taken further in PHP or other languages.

3. SMTP Smuggling - Spoofing E-Mails Worldwide

In well-earned third place comes SMTP Smuggling - Spoofing E-Mails Worldwide by Timo Longin. This research continues the parser discrepancy storm by adapting HTTP request smuggling techniques to exploit SMTP instead. It contains all the hallmarks of outstanding research: innovative ideas, high-impact case-studies targeting well-known software, in-depth explanations, tools, and ample potential for further research. We think it could serve as a solid foundation for identifying smuggling issues in different protocols or even for discovering additional techniques within SMTP itself. It also offers a clear lesson; if you're using a text-based protocol with multiple parsers, beware!

Massive congrats to Timo Longin and SEC Consult for this contribution to internet security!

2. Exploiting Hardened .NET Deserialization

Exploiting Hardened .NET Deserialization by Piotr Bazydło provides an absolute deserialization masterclass. The introduction lays out the goal: "show that targets that appear not to be exploitable, may be in fact vulnerable". The subsequent 100 pages achieve it. Invest your time in these pages and they will reward you by destroying any faith you might have had in blocklist-based deserialization mitigations, and equipping you with the means to personally get that RCE. It's available as a conference presentation too. Highlights for the panel included the beautiful gadgets CredentialIntializer and SettingsPropertyValue, and the insecure serialization attack on the the deserialize->serialize pattern.

This is an outstanding contribution to the community from Piotr Bazydło and Trend Micro ZDI - awesome work!

1. Smashing the state machine: the true potential of web race conditions

Well, this is awkward. I always knew there was a risk to rating research when I also publish it myself, and after seven years it's happened - I now have to declare that my own research is the best. Next year I'm going to figure out a strategy for reclaiming some resemblance of integrity but for now, let's hear from the rest of the panel:

In recent years, there was not much to say about web race conditions - testers have a good idea where they are, establish whether they work or not, and move on. Not anymore. Smashing the state machine by James Kettle highlights previously overlooked aspects of race condition attacks in everyday applications. It focuses on the multi-step aspect of race condition attacks to achieve greater impact, and adapts recent techniques abusing the latest HTTP stacks to maximise exploitability. Although executing some of these attacks may prove challenging, I believe this research holds great potential for the future!

2023 saw the security community publish a huge quantity of quality research, resulting in fierce competition in both the community vote and the panel vote phases.

The community engagement is what gives this project spark so if you have opinions about our rankings, or would simply like to share your personal top ten, feel free to post them and tag us on X / Mastodon / LinkedIn . One thing we can all agree on is that any possible selection of ten winners from 78 nominations is going to leave a lot of good techniques behind so it's well worth revisiting the nomination list too!

Part of what lands an entry in the top 10 is its expected longevity, so it's well worth getting caught up with past year's top 10s too. If you're interested in getting a preview of what might win from 2024, you can subscribe to our RSS , join r/websecurityresearch , or follow us on social. If you're interested in doing this kind of research yourself, I've shared a few lessons I've learned over the years in Hunting Evasive Vulnerabilities , and So you want to be a web security researcher?

Thanks again to everyone who took part! Without your nominations, votes, and most-importantly research, this wouldn't be possible.

Till next time!

Back to all articles

Related Research

This paper is in the following e-collection/theme issue:

Published on 26.2.2024 in Vol 26 (2024)

Virtual Reality–Based Exercise Rehabilitation in Cancer-Related Dysfunctions: Scoping Review

Authors of this article:

Author Orcid Image

  • Zhenzhen Su 1 , BSc   ; 
  • Liyan Zhang 2 , MSc   ; 
  • Xuemin Lian 1 , BSc   ; 
  • Miaomiao Guan 1 , BSc  

1 School of Nursing, Peking University, Beijing, China

2 Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Translational Research (Ministry of Education/Beijing), Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology, Peking University Cancer Hospital & Institute, Beijing, China

Corresponding Author:

Liyan Zhang, MSc

Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Translational Research (Ministry of Education/Beijing)

Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology

Peking University Cancer Hospital & Institute

52 Fucheng Road, Haidian District

Beijing, 100142

Phone: 86 18210187087

Email: [email protected]

Background: Virtual reality–based exercise rehabilitation (VRER) is a promising intervention for patients with cancer-related dysfunctions (CRDs). However, studies focusing on VRER for CRDs are lacking, and the results are inconsistent.

Objective: We aimed to review the application of VRER in patients with CRDs.

Methods: This scoping review was conducted following the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) checklist framework. Publications were included from the time of database establishment to October 14, 2023. The databases were PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane, Web of Science, ProQuest, arXiv, IEEE Xplore, MedRxiv, CNKI, Wanfang Data, VIP, and SinoMed. The population included patients with cancer. A virtual reality (VR) system or device was required to be provided in exercise rehabilitation as an intervention. Eligible studies focused on VRER used for CRDs. Study selection and data extraction were performed by 2 reviewers independently. Extracted data included authors, year, country, study type, groups, sample size, participant age, cancer type, existing or potential CRDs, VR models and devices, intervention programs and durations, effectiveness, compliance, satisfaction, and safety.

Results: We identified 25 articles, and among these, 12 (48%) were randomized clinical trials, 11 (44%) were other experimental studies, and 2 (8%) were observational studies. The total sample size was 1174 (range 6-136). Among the 25 studies, 22 (88%), 2 (8%), and 1 (4%) included nonimmersive VR, immersive VR, and augmented reality, respectively, which are models of VRER. Commercial game programs (17/25, 68%) were the most popular interventions of VRER, and their duration ranged from 3 to 12 weeks. Using these models and devices, VRER was mostly applied in patients with breast cancer (14/25, 56%), leukemia (8/25, 32%), and lung cancer (3/25, 12%). Furthermore, 6 CRDs were intervened by VRER, and among these, postmastectomy syndromes were the most common (10/25, 40%). Overall, 74% (17/23) of studies reported positive results, including significant improvements in limb function, joint range of motion, edema rates, cognition, respiratory disturbance index, apnea, activities of daily living, and quality of life. The compliance rate ranged from 56% to 100%. Overall, 32% (8/25) of studies reported on patient satisfaction, and of these, 88% (7/8) reported satisfaction with VRER. Moreover, 13% (1/8) reported mild sickness as an adverse event.

Conclusions: We found that around half of the studies reported using VRER in patients with breast cancer and postmastectomy dysfunctions through nonimmersive models and commercial game programs having durations of 3-12 weeks. In addition, most studies showed that VRER was effective owing to virtualization and interaction. Therefore, VRER may be an alternate intervention for patients with CRDs. However, as the conclusions were drawn from data with acknowledged inconsistencies and limited satisfaction reports, studies with larger sample sizes and more outcome indictors are required.

Introduction

Use of traditional exercise rehabilitation in patients with cancer-related dysfunctions.

Cancer is a leading cause of death, and cancer and its treatments cause varying degrees of cancer-related dysfunctions (CRDs) [ 1 - 3 ]. Studies have shown that the probability of CRDs in pediatric patients is close to 20%, whereas the incidence of CRDs in adult patients exceeds 50% [ 4 ]. Common CRDs include chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), sexual dysfunction, cancer-related fatigue (CRF), cancer-related sleep disorder, cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI), postoperative syndromes in breast cancer, and cardiopulmonary dysfunction, with incidence rates of up to 96% [ 5 ], 95% [ 6 , 7 ], 90% [ 8 ], 90% [ 9 ], 83% [ 10 ], 60% [ 11 ], and 28% [ 12 ], respectively. These CRDs significantly reduce the quality of life (QoL) of patients and increase the economic burden on the health care system. Exercise rehabilitation, including aerobic, resistance, flexibility, and neuromuscular training, has been widely discussed as a treatment method [ 13 ]. It has been shown that exercise rehabilitation can significantly improve CRDs [ 14 - 18 ]. Palm et al [ 18 ] demonstrated that exercise rehabilitation, such as physical exercises and pelvic floor muscle exercises, could improve sexual function. Zimmer et al [ 19 ] reported the same results, showing a significant alleviation of CIPN after an 8-week exercise rehabilitation program that included endurance, resistance, and balance training [ 19 ].

However, traditional exercise rehabilitation has limitations. First, most patients with cancer have few opportunities to participate in exercise rehabilitation. A study on the unmet needs of patients with gynecologic cancers found that only one-third of these patients had access to an exercise rehabilitation program [ 20 ]. In addition, 86% of pediatric embryonal brain cancer survivors in Norway had unmet rehabilitation needs [ 21 ]. Second, patients with cancer have poor compliance with exercise rehabilitation. Because exercise rehabilitation was performed over a long period, was monotonous, and lacked supervision, up to 50% of patients could not continue their recovery, even after they arrived at the rehabilitation center [ 22 ]. Third, exercise rehabilitation programs must be individualized to the characteristics of each patient, which poses a challenge to medical staff [ 23 ]. Therefore, research exploring new exercise rehabilitation measures to improve CRDs and the QoL of patients with cancer is urgently needed. In addition, such research will reduce the burden on the medical system. These exercise rehabilitation measures must also ensure patient compliance and satisfaction.

Use of Virtual Reality–Based Exercise Rehabilitation in CRDs

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that integrates visual and auditory stimuli through devices such as head-mounted displays, virtual headsets, and virtual glasses. While wearing a VR device, users can interact with the virtual environment through hand controllers and sensors [ 24 ]. Four main models of VR systems are commonly used in the medical field: desktop VR, immersive VR, augmented reality (AR), and distributed VR [ 25 ]. Desktop VR, also known as nonimmersive VR, allows users to interact with the virtual environment through devices such as a keyboard, mouse, joystick, or touch screen. Immersive VR systems temporarily isolate users from the real world. Users are immersed in virtual environments using interactive devices, such as head-mounted displays, which affect their visual, auditory, and other senses. AR enhances VR by superimposing virtual objects onto the real world to create a more realistic experience. Finally, distributed VR systems connect virtual environments from different locations across the internet, enabling users in multiple locations to participate in the same virtual space and interact effectively. The advancement of technology has enabled the gradual application of VR in patients.

Virtual reality–based exercise rehabilitation (VRER) is a promising intervention that combines VR and exercise rehabilitation. VRER uses VR to create a 3D environment coupled with body tracking to provide safe and realistic scenes [ 26 ]. Studies have suggested that VRER effectively improves dysfunctions in patients with Parkinson disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. In patients with Parkinson disease, VR technology can provide a virtual scenario with gait and balance rehabilitation, in which patients can engage in multisensory VRER to improve their dysfunctions [ 27 ]. In addition, this research found that VRER interventions improved the limb function and walking ability of patients with stroke, through various devices for motor or balance exercises. The improvement of both outcomes exceeded that of traditional exercise rehabilitation [ 28 ]. Similarly, patients with cardiovascular disease also benefited from VRER through a series of exergames. The treatment improved participants’ symptoms and cardiorespiratory fitness [ 29 ]. Abbas et al [ 30 ] proposed that VR could achieve desired rehabilitation outcomes without a therapist, which would significantly reduce rehabilitation costs. Furthermore, VRER is beneficial when traditional rehabilitation services are inadequate or rehabilitation environments are unsafe [ 30 ].

Research Gaps and Aims

As mentioned above, traditional exercise rehabilitation is considered to be boring, lacks accessibility, has low compliance, and lacks individualization. There is an urgent need to improve the rehabilitation effectiveness in patients with CRDs. VRER, as a promising intervention, aimed to overcome the shortage of traditional exercise rehabilitation. Original studies have investigated its application and have reported the models, contents, effectiveness, and other outcomes, but the results of the available research have been inconsistent [ 24 , 31 ]. With the increasing number of VRER interventions, it is important to aggregate the current research via a scoping review, so that researchers can review the applications and limitations of VRER in CRDs.

We searched the Cochrane Database and PubMed for previous systematic reviews and scoping reviews, but no comprehensive reviews were found. Therefore, we conducted a scoping review on the application of VRER in CRDs, with the aim to assess the following: (1) models and contents of VRER in CRDs; (2) types of cancers and CRDs in VRER; (3) effectiveness of VRER; and (4) patient compliance, satisfaction, and safety of VRER in CRDs.

A scoping review was conducted to explore the relevant articles on the effectiveness of VRER in CRDs. To conduct and report this scoping review, we followed the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) checklist framework [ 32 , 33 ], but modified some parts to fit our review. The PRISMA-ScR checklist of our review can be found in Multimedia Appendix 1 . The protocol details can be found in Multimedia Appendix 2 [ 4 , 14 - 18 , 20 - 24 , 27 , 29 - 31 ]. A scoping review is an ideal method for reporting because it provides comprehensive information about studies of interest [ 34 ]. It lists how the study is conducted, defines certain concepts and characterizations, pinpoints key factors or essential issues, analyzes insufficient information, and examines the future direction of a specific field [ 34 ]. We chose the scoping review approach as it was suitable for our aims.

Eligibility Criteria

The PICOS (Population, Intervention, Comparator, Outcome, Study design) framework was used to clarify our search eligibility criteria ( Textbox 1 ). The population involved patients with cancer. The interventions included exercise rehabilitation through VR systems or devices. There were no restrictions on comparators applied. The eligible studies were focused on VRER used for the recovery of CRDs to assess effectiveness or feasibility, and patient satisfaction, compliance, or safety. In addition, the contents of interventions of VRER were required to be displayed. Experimental studies or observational studies with full text in English or Chinese were included, while qualitative research or other such types were excluded because we attempted to explore quantitative outcomes. Publications from the establishment of the database to October 14, 2023, were considered for inclusion.

Inclusion criteria

  • Population (P): Patients with cancer
  • Intervention (I): Exercise rehabilitation through a virtual reality (VR) system or device
  • Comparator (C): No comparator was needed. However, when studies were designed with a comparator, such as a control group, it was required to be another intervention or a blank control, and to have baseline data.
  • Outcome (O): Feasibility indicators of virtual reality–based exercise rehabilitation (VRER); Effectiveness of VRER; Patient satisfaction, compliance, or safety of VRER
  • Study design (S): Experimental design (randomized clinical trial [RCT], quasi-RCT, non-RCT, and before-after study); Observational design
  • Language: English or Chinese
  • Time limit: From the date of database establishment to October 14, 2023

Exclusion criteria

  • Population (P): Dysfunction not caused by cancer or its therapy; Not cancer patients
  • Intervention (I): No exercise rehabilitation; Exercise rehabilitation without VR; No description of VRER contents
  • Comparator (C): No restrictions on the comparators applied
  • Outcome (O): Not reported
  • Study design (S): Review meeting comment, letter, and editorial protocol only
  • Invention: Case report; Guidelines; Qualitative research
  • Language: Not in English or Chinese
  • Time limit: Time not mentioned in the inclusion criterion

Information Sources

We searched both English and Chinese databases to identify relevant studies in this review. The databases included PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane, Web of Science, ProQuest, arXiv, IEEE Xplore, MedRxiv, CNKI, Wanfang Data, VIP, and SinoMed. The databases of arXiv, IEEE Xplore, and MedRxiv were searched because they are professional computer technology databases. Moreover, we searched reference lists to explore further studies of interest.

Search Strategy

We used a combination of Medical Subject Healings (MeSH) terms and free words to build our strategy in order to achieve perfection and optimization. Two researchers (ZS and XL) independently constructed the search terms based on the PICOS framework and previous research. If their opinions differed, the search terms were decided by another author (LZ). A specific search strategy for PubMed is listed in Textbox 2 . The search terms of all databases are presented in Multimedia Appendix 3 .

  • #1 “Neoplasms”[MeSH] OR “Cancer”[Title/Abstract] OR “Neoplas*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Carcinoma”[Title/Abstract] OR “Tumo*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Adenocarcinoma”[Title/Abstract] OR “Malignan*”[Title/Abstract]
  • #2 “Virtual Reality”[MeSH] OR (“Virtual”[Title/Abstract] AND “Reality”[Title/Abstract])
  • #3 “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy”[MeSH] OR “Exergaming”[MeSH] OR “Exercise Therapy”[MeSH] OR “Exercise”[MeSH] OR “Sports”[MeSH] OR (“Reality Therap*”[Title/Abstract] AND “Virtual”[Title/Abstract]) OR “Active-Video Gaming*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Exergam*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Rehabilitation Exercise*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Remedial Exercise*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Exercise*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Athletic*”[Title/Abstract] OR “Training”[Title/Abstract]
  • #4 #1 AND #2 AND #3

Selection of Sources of Evidence

Two researchers (ZS and MG) independently screened and cross-checked the literature. If their opinions differed, the search terms were decided by another researcher (LZ). All search results were exported to EndNote X9 (Clarivate), and then, we screened and eliminated duplicate articles manually with the software. The study selection process involved 2 steps. First, we eliminated irrelevant studies by reading the titles and abstracts. Second, we read the full text of the remaining studies to identify studies for inclusion (same 2 researchers).

Data Extraction and Result Synthesis

A data extraction form was developed by ZS and reviewed by LZ. The extracted data were all from full-text studies. The extracted contents included metadata (authors, year, country, study type, groups, sample size, and age), features of VRER application in CRDs (cancer type, existing or potential CRDs, VR models and devices, intervention programs, and duration), effectiveness, satisfaction, compliance, and safety. Two researchers (ZS and XL) independently performed data extraction and cross-checking. If their opinions differed, the search terms were decided by another researcher (LZ).

Selection of Evidence

The search was conducted from the date of database establishment to October 14, 2023. A total of 2697 English and Chinese records were retrieved from 13 databases, including PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane, Web of Science, ProQuest, arXiv, IEEE Xplore, MedRxiv, CNKI, Wanfang Data, VIP, and SinoMed. All forms were included in EndNote X9, and 857 duplicate articles were manually removed. The titles and abstracts of 1840 reports were read, and then, 1770 irrelevant reports were excluded. The reasons for exclusion were research at cellular and molecular levels, inconsistent research type and patient type, and VR applications in auxiliary medical methods. After screening the titles and abstracts, 70 reports were included in the full-text screening, and 11 reports were excluded because the full text of the articles was unavailable. Moreover, 42 reports were excluded after reading the full text because the reports were reviews (n=4), protocols (n=10), qualitative studies (n=3), or invention reports (n=4); were not in English or Chinese (n=1); did not address VRER (n=14); did not involve cancer patients (n=3); and did not report results or outcomes (n=3). In addition, we simultaneously conducted a citation search of interest, generating a total of 17 records. Of these, 9 reports were excluded because the reports were reviews (n=1), did not address VRER (n=5), did not involve cancer patients (n=2), and were not in English or Chinese (n=1). Through database and citation searches, 17 and 8 articles were included, respectively. A total of 25 articles ultimately met the predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria and were cited for data extraction [ 35 - 59 ]. Details of the screening process and the included and excluded articles at each stage are shown in the PRISMA-ScR flowchart ( Figure 1 ). Multimedia Appendix 4 shows the data extracted from all 25 studies [ 35 - 59 ], which we will also introduce in the following text.

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Characteristics of the Sources of Evidence

The general characteristics of the included studies are displayed in Table 1 . It can be seen that primary published research on VRER dates back as far as 2013. Most studies (12/25, 48%) were randomized clinical trials (RCTs), followed by before-after studies (8/25, 32%), quasi-RCTs (2/25, 8%), observational studies (2/25, 8%), and non-RCTs (1/25, 4%). The total sample size was 1174, ranging from 6 to 136. The results showed that most (10/25, 40%) studies had fewer than 30 participants. The second largest sample size was between 31 and 50 (7/25, 28%). Less than one-third of studies (8/25, 32%) had over 50 participants.

a RCT: randomized clinical trial.

Models and Contents of VRER in CRDs

We explored the models and devices of VR ( Table 2 ). The results showed that nonimmersive VR was the most popular model chosen by researchers (22/25, 88%), while immersive VR and AR were used in 8% (2/25) and 4% (1/25) of included studies, respectively. Regarding VR devices, most studies (16/25, 64%) used commercial devices manufactured by Nintendo, Microsoft, or other technology companies (eg, Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect, UINCARE Home+, and IREX system), while 36% (9/25) of studies used self-built VR devices.

a VR: virtual reality.

Regarding the contents of VRER, we identified commercial game programs and individualized exercise programs. Most (17/25, 68%) of the studies adopted commercial game programs through commercial VR devices like Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect, while around one-third (8/25, 32%) of the studies applied individualized exercise programs, with 88% (7/8) using self-built systems ( Table 3 ).

a NA: not available.

The intervention duration of VRER programs was different among studies ( Table 3 ). In the included studies, the programs were conducted for 20 to 60 minutes per session, and 3 to 7 sessions were conducted per week for 3 to 12 weeks. Most were conducted for 8 weeks (9/25, 36%) or 3 months (5/25, 20%). In terms of the time per session, the majority (11/25, 44%) of programs were conducted for 30 minutes per session, and the second most common time was 45 minutes per session.

Types of Cancers and CRDs Studied in VRER

Table 4 presents the overall general characteristics of the included populations, and types of cancers and CRDs studied in VRER. The population’s age ranged from 3 years to over 70 years. Among all studies, 16% (4/25) reported pediatric cancer patients aged <18 years, who were mainly diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or brain cancer [ 37 , 42 , 50 , 52 ]. The remaining 84% (21/25) of studies reported adults with various cancers, including breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, brain cancer, nervous system cancer, lung cancer, gastrointestinal tract cancer, abdominal and pelvic cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, multiple myeloma, colorectal cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and ovarian cancer. Among all 25 studies included in the analysis, patients with breast cancer constituted the largest group (14/25, 56%). The second largest cancer type was leukemia (8/25, 32%), and the third largest was lung cancer (3/25, 12%). With these cancers, the most reported CRDs were postmastectomy syndromes, including upper limb dyskinesia and lymphedema (10/25, 40%). The second most reported CRDs were CRCI and CRF (both 5/25, 20%). The third most reported CRDs were extensive physical function damage and neuropathy (3/25, 12%; 1 study about CIPN and 2 studies about cancer-related central neuropathy). Cancer-related sleep disorders (1/25, 4%) were also covered in the included population.

a CRDs: cancer-related dysfunctions.

b NR: not reported.

c CRCI: cancer-related cognitive impairment.

d CRF: cancer-related fatigue.

Effectiveness of VRER for CRDs

The effectiveness of VRER for CRDs is shown in Table 5 . Two observational studies were excluded in this table because they only observed the current situation without any intervention. The effectiveness included positive (results with significant improvements) and negative results (results with no significant improvements, results without statistical analysis, or inconsistent results). Overall, 74% (17/23) of studies reported positive results. Among the 23 studies, 70% (16/23) reported the results compared with preintervention groups and 65% (15/23) reported the results compared with control groups. Among the studies that reported the results compared with preintervention groups, 75% (12/16) reported positive results after the intervention, including significant improvements in limb function, excessive limb volume, activities of daily living (ADLs), QoL, muscle strength, fear of movement, CRF, balance, body coordination, respiratory disturbance index, apnea, sleep habits, and memory. Conversely, 25% (4/16) of studies reported negative results. Among the studies that reported the results compared with control groups, 60% (9/15) reported positive results after the intervention, including significant improvements in pain intensity, range of motion (ROM) of the joint, fear of movement, edema rate, cognition, ADLs, and QoL.

a VRER: virtual reality–based exercise rehabilitation.

b ROM: range of motion.

c NR: not reported.

d NA: not available.

e CRF: cancer-related fatigue.

f QoL: quality of life.

Compliance, Satisfaction, and Safety of VRER

Patient-reported compliance, satisfaction, and safety of VRER are presented in Table 6 . Some studies did not report some indicators. Compliance and satisfaction rates or scores were either explicitly stated by the authors or calculated from flow charts. If the satisfaction rate was above 85% or the score was over 3.4/4, 4.3/5, or 5.1/6, we defined the patient-reported result as satisfactory. If the satisfaction rate was lower than 60% or the score was less than 2.4/4, 3.0/5, or 3.6/6, we defined the patient-reported result as unsatisfactory.

As shown in Table 6 , 88% (22/25) of studies reported compliance rates, ranging from 56% to 100%. Among them, the majority (13/22, 55%) reported compliance rates between 85% and 99%. Unfortunately, 5% (1/22) reported a compliance rate lower than 60%. With regard to satisfaction, 32% (8/25) of studies provided results. Among them, 88% (7/8) reported satisfaction with VRER and 13% (1/8) reported a neutral result. None of the studies reported unsatisfactory results. With regard to adverse events, 8 studies provided results. Among them, 88% (7/8) reported no adverse events and 12% (1/8) reported mild sickness.

Principal Findings

VRER is a promising intervention for rehabilitation in patients with CRDs. However, studies focusing on this intervention are lacking and have inconsistent results. In this scoping review, we aimed to explore the applications of VRER used for CRDs, in order to provide a comprehensive summary of studies and to provide a reference for clinical practice.

Of 2714 studies, 25 records were identified that fit our eligibility criteria through screening and analysis. Most of the studies were RCTs (12/25, 48%) and before-after studies (8/25, 32%). The total sample size was 1174, ranging from 6 to 136. According to our objectives, there were 3 categories of results, and each of them provided classification of studies from a different aspect.

First, there were several models and contents of VRER. The models of VR included nonimmersive VR, immersive VR, and AR. Nonimmersive VR was the most (22/25, 88%) used branch through both commercial (16/25, 74%) and self-built devices (9/25, 36%). Within these 3 models, researchers preferred choosing commercial games (17/25, 68%). The other 32% (8/25) of studies applied individualized exercise programs, which were mainly conducted by self-built systems (7/8, 88%). The duration of VRER ranged from 3 to 12 weeks.

Second, there were various types of cancers and CRDs intervened by different VRER approaches. In our review, the most common cancers were breast cancer (14/25, 56%), leukemia (8/25, 32%), and lung cancer (3/25, 12%). Postmastectomy syndromes, including upper limb dyskinesia and lymphedema, were the main CRDs (10/25, 40%).

Third, the effectiveness, compliance, satisfaction, and safety of VRER were inconsistent in the publications. Positive results included significant improvements in limb function, joint ROM, edema rates, cognition, respiratory disturbance index, apnea, ADLs, and QoL. The compliance rate ranged from 56% to 100%. None of the studies reported unsatisfactory results, while 1 study reported mild sickness.

Figure 2 provides an illustration of the distribution and efficacy of VRER applications across different types of cancers.

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Comparison With Prior Work

Models and contents of vrer.

In our review, 88% (22/25) of studies applied nonimmersive VR systems for rehabilitation, while the remaining 12% (3/25) applied immersive VR and AR. Among them, the contents were mainly commercial game programs, which were reported in 68% (17/25) of studies. Commercial devices like Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect were mostly (13/25, 52%) used. These findings are consistent with the results of other systematic reviews [ 60 ]. The reasons for the dominance of nonimmersive VR and commercial game programs include low cost, easy use, and high accessibility [ 61 ]. In addition, commercial devices have mature game systems that involve various fun rehabilitation approaches [ 62 ].

We also discovered different views from other studies. In our review, nonimmersive VR more frequently led to less adverse events than immersive VR, and thus, people preferred nonimmersive VR [ 58 ]. This finding is not consistent with the results in the studies by Tuena et al [ 63 ] and Buche et al [ 64 ], who found that immersive VR appeared to be associated with less motion sickness. The difference in the findings may be related to the intervention duration. In our review, studies reported that the duration ranged from 3 to 12 weeks, whereas over half of the studies in the review by Tuena et al [ 63 ] conducted 1 session of less than 45 minutes. Studies with a larger duration and with controls can be implemented in the future with nonimmersive and immersive VR to obtain definite conclusions.

We noted that over one-third (9/25, 36%) of studies developed self-built VRER systems. Most of them considered the differences in the disease durations and exercise preferences of patients. These studies aimed to improve the outcomes through individual design. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these systems was compared with that of traditional exercise rehabilitation but not with that of commercial VRER. Further research is needed in this field.

Types of Cancers and CRDs in Studies on VRER

We found that around half of the studies on VRER involved patients with breast cancer and postmastectomy dysfunction. This finding is similar to the results in other studies [ 60 , 65 ]. The reasons may be that breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and postoperative dysfunction continues from treatment to the survival stage. Thus, there is a need for symptom management, and this area is worthy of attention [ 66 ].

Moreover, we identified VRER for several other types of cancers and CRDs. Some studies (13/25, 52%) reported the use of VRER in patients with leukemia, lymphoma, brain cancer, nervous system cancer, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, abdominal and pelvic cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, multiple myeloma, colorectal cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, pancreas cancer, and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, research (15/25, 60%) on CRDs, including CRCI, CRF, extensive physical dysfunction, CIPN, cancer-related central neuropathy, and sleep disorders, reported that intervention by VRER was effective. Considering the diversity of cancers and CRDs, we adopted a broader scope to explore the application of VRER in CRDs. However, the number of publications was limited. Future studies should consider a greater number of cancers and CRDs.

Effectiveness of VRER

Another significant finding of our study was that VRER can effectively improve CRDs in patients with cancer. Buche et al [ 64 ] reviewed VRER application in CRDs and reported a similar result.

In addition to postmastectomy syndromes, other types of CRDs could also be intervened effectively by VRER. Studies showed that VRER can improve limb function, joint ROM, edema rates, cognition, respiratory disturbance index, apnea, ADLs, and QoL in cases of CRDs like CRCI, CIPN, and cancer-related sleep disorder [ 38 - 40 , 43 - 45 , 48 , 50 - 52 , 54 , 55 ]. The potential mechanism was speculated to be closely related to the virtualization and interaction of VR. On one hand, the virtual environment created by VRER could alleviate the fear of movement and the pain of exercise among patients, enabling them to execute exercise rehabilitation better through distraction [ 36 , 67 ]. Moreover, the virtual environment provided stimuli and pleasure, encouraging participants to be more active [ 68 - 70 ]. On the other hand, VR can directly affect exercise rehabilitation through interaction. The interaction associated with VR generates visual stimuli through which patients can identify differences between their movements and the correct ones [ 71 ]. Thus, patients’ objective indicators and stimulus feedback allow VR games to be continuously adjusted to achieve superior results [ 41 ]. Therefore, it can be more personalized and accurate [ 38 ]. In addition, interaction encourages competition and repetition, improving participants’ focus and executive function [ 72 , 73 ]. The potential mechanisms of VRER in CRDs are depicted in Figure 3 .

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Undeniably, there is no certainty that VRER is better than traditional exercise rehabilitation. Many (10/25, 40%) studies had a small sample size or lacked a randomized and controlled design, which made the results of the studies somewhat different, and the studies lacked sufficient convincing power. We look forward to adding large-sample RCTs in the future.

In addition to clinical effectiveness, we found that it is highly feasible for medical staff and patients to use VRER for CRDs. The median compliance rate was 91% (IQ1-IQ3=82%-99%) in the 25 studies, which is much higher than the rate of 71% or less for traditional exercise rehabilitation [ 74 ]. Furthermore, high satisfaction and mild VRER adverse events indicated that VRER was widespread and readily accepted. These results were similar to the findings of a systematic review of VR for symptom management in cancer patients, which reported high retention rates in most VR interventions [ 75 ]. However, only 8 studies (8/25, 32%) reported on satisfaction, with 88% (7/8) reporting satisfactory results on VRER (satisfaction rate of over 85% or scores of 3.4/4, 4.3/5, or 5.1/6). When we explored the safety of VRER devices, we found that only 1 study (1/8, 13%) reported mild sickness. Although adverse events have been reported less frequently and the reported adverse event was mildly symptomatic, such events may have some impact on patients. As Zhou et al [ 58 ] reported, cybersickness is unavoidable in the use of VR owing to the desynchronization of visual stimuli with neural signals. Therefore, when VRER is used, we suggest to introduce it slowly and carefully according to the feedback received from patients. In addition, when reporting outcomes, future studies on VRER for CRDs need to include compliance, satisfaction, and occurrence of adverse events as indicators to better understand the feasibility and safety of VRER.

Limitations and Future Implications

Our study has some limitations. First, we found that the sample sizes of the studies varied widely, ranging from 6 to 136, which may have introduced variability in our findings. Additionally, more than one-third (10/25, 40%) of the studies had a sample size of less than 30, making it difficult to obtain convincing results. Second, not all studies reported all the indicators we required, which may have reduced the accuracy of our findings, and the validity of the results should be interpreted with caution. In view of the variety of CRDs, VRER application is still relatively limited. Third, there was a trend of using self-built VR systems, but comparisons with other VR systems were lacking. For these reasons, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of VRER for CRDs, and its adoption should be treated with caution.

Based on these limitations, we have made 3 suggestions for future research. When assessing VRER for CRDs, researchers should (1) increase the sample size to enable more people to use VRER in order to obtain valuable and credible outcomes; (2) include more types of CRDs and more comprehensive indicators like compliance, satisfaction, and safety; and (3) develop more self-built VRER systems with individual content and perform comparisons with traditional VRER systems.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first scoping review to provide the most comprehensive data for VRER in patients with CRDs. We summarized the types, models, contents, effectiveness, compliance, satisfaction, and safety of VRER for CRDs, as well as mapped the potential mechanism. Our study found that VRER was mainly used in patients with breast cancer and postmastectomy dysfunctions through nonimmersive models and commercial game programs. Moreover, we found that VRER is an effective intervention accompanied with high compliance and satisfaction for CRDs. However, our findings regarding the effectiveness of VRER are drawn from data with acknowledged inconsistencies and limited satisfaction reports. Thus, it is critical to consider these conclusions with caution. In addition, the sample size, types of CRDs, reported indicators, and VR systems were limited. Nevertheless, we believe that this review can help clinical practices to better understand the applications of VRER for CRDs and to better determine whether to use this approach. We believe that VRER has further unexploited potential in rehabilitation and health care for CRDs, but additional research is needed to solidify these findings. For VRER to be properly accepted in the real word, studies involving larger sample sizes, more CRDs with individual content, and more outcome indictors are required.

Acknowledgments

We thank TopEdit for linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

Data Availability

The data sets generated during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Authors' Contributions

ZS and LZ contributed to the conception and design of this paper. ZS conducted the literature searches and drafted the first version of the manuscript. ZS, LZ, and XL contributed to the construction of search terms and the screening of the literature. ZS and XL contributed to the data extraction. LZ, MG, and XL revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

None declared.

PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) checklist.

Search terms used to identify studies.

Data extracted from all 25 studies.

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Abbreviations

Edited by A Mavragani; submitted 24.05.23; peer-reviewed by S Triscari, S Okita; comments to author 11.10.23; revised version received 31.10.23; accepted 30.01.24; published 26.02.24.

©Zhenzhen Su, Liyan Zhang, Xuemin Lian, Miaomiao Guan. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 26.02.2024.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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  • v.6(1); 2016 Mar 22

Internet addiction and problematic Internet use: A systematic review of clinical research

Correspondence to: Dr. Daria J Kuss, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Burton St, Nottingham NG1 4BU, United Kingdom. [email protected]

Telephone: +44-115-8484153 Fax: +44-115-8484153

AIM: To provide a comprehensive overview of clinical studies on the clinical picture of Internet-use related addictions from a holistic perspective. A literature search was conducted using the database Web of Science.

METHODS: Over the last 15 years, the number of Internet users has increased by 1000%, and at the same time, research on addictive Internet use has proliferated. Internet addiction has not yet been understood very well, and research on its etiology and natural history is still in its infancy. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association included Internet Gaming Disorder in the appendix of the updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as condition that requires further research prior to official inclusion in the main manual, with important repercussions for research and treatment. To date, reviews have focused on clinical and treatment studies of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder. This arguably limits the analysis to a specific diagnosis of a potential disorder that has not yet been officially recognised in the Western world, rather than a comprehensive and inclusive investigation of Internet-use related addictions (including problematic Internet use) more generally.

RESULTS: The systematic literature review identified a total of 46 relevant studies. The included studies used clinical samples, and focused on characteristics of treatment seekers and online addiction treatment. Four main types of clinical research studies were identified, namely research involving (1) treatment seeker characteristics; (2) psychopharmacotherapy; (3) psychological therapy; and (4) combined treatment.

CONCLUSION: A consensus regarding diagnostic criteria and measures is needed to improve reliability across studies and to develop effective and efficient treatment approaches for treatment seekers.

Core tip: Internet addiction has appeared as new mental health concern. To date, reviews have focused on clinical and treatment studies of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder, limiting the analysis to a specific diagnosis of a potential disorder that has not yet been officially recognised, rather than a comprehensive investigation of Internet-use related addictions (including problematic Internet use) more generally. This systematic literature review outlines and discusses the current empirical literature base for clinical studies of Internet addiction and problematic Internet use. A total of 46 relevant studies on treatment seeker characteristics, psychopharmacotherapy, psychological therapy, and combined treatment were identified.

INTRODUCTION

Over the last 15 years, the number of Internet users has increased by 1000%[ 1 ], and at the same time, research on addictive Internet use has proliferated. Internet addiction has not yet been understood very well, and research on its etiology and natural history is still in its infancy[ 2 ]. Currently, it is estimated that between 0.8% of young individuals in Italy[ 3 ] and 8.8% of Chinese adolescents[ 4 ] are affected. The reported higher prevalence rates in China suggest Internet addiction is a serious problem in China, and the country has acknowledged Internet addiction as official disorder in 2008[ 5 ].

A comprehensive systematic review of epidemiological research of Internet addiction for the last decade[ 6 ] indicated Internet addiction is associated with various risk factors, including sociodemographic variables (including male gender, younger age, and higher family income), Internet use variables (including time spent online, using social and gaming applications), psychosocial factors (including impulsivity, neuroticism, and loneliness), and comorbid symptoms (including depression, anxiety, and psychopathology in general), suggesting these factors contribute to an increased vulnerability for developing Internet-use related problems. Despite the gradually increasing number of studies concerning Internet addiction, classification is a contentious issue as a total of 21 different assessment instruments have been developed to date, and these are currently used to identify Internet addiction in both clinical and normative populations[ 6 ]. Conceptualisations vary substantially and include criteria derived from pathological gambling, substance-related addictions and the number of problems experienced. In addition to this, the cut-off points utilised for classification differ significantly, which impedes research and cultural cross-comparisons and limits research reliability.

Increasing research efforts on Internet addiction have led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to include Internet Gaming Disorder in the appendix of the updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013 as condition that requires further research before it can be accepted for inclusion in the main manual[ 7 ]. This has resulted in researchers commencing efforts to reach an international consensus for assessing Internet Gaming Disorder using the new DSM-5 approach based on an international expert panel[ 8 ]. However, various limitations to this recently proposed “consensus” have been identified, including the lack of a representative international community of experts in the field, the voting method used to arrive at the consensus, the criteria and nosology identified, lack of critical measurement of the disorder and lack of field testing[ 9 ]. For the purpose of a comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the potential disorder, in this systematic literature review, Internet addiction will be referred to as encompassing Internet-use related addictions and problematic Internet use, including Internet Gaming Disorder. It is argued that until this concept is understood more fully (including nosology, etiology and diagnostic criteria), limiting our understanding of Internet-use related addictions to Internet gaming-related problems does neither pay sufficient respect to the affected individuals’ personal experience nor to the variety of online behaviours that can be engaged in excessively online. For example, other potential online addictions and Internet-use related disorders have been recently reviewed[ 10 ], suggesting that limiting a diagnosis to online gaming exclusively misses out many cases of individuals who experience negative consequences and significant impairment due to their Internet use-related behaviours.

For some individuals, their online behaviours are problematic and they require professional help as they cannot cope with their experiences by themselves, suggesting treatment is necessary. Based on in-depth interviews with 20 Internet addiction treatment experts from Europe and North America, Kuss and Griffiths[ 11 ] found that in inpatient and outpatient clinical settings, Internet addiction and Internet-use related problems are associated with significant impairment and distress for individuals, which have been emphasised as the criteria demarcating mental disorders[ 12 ]. This suggests that in the clinical context, Internet addiction can be viewed as mental disorder requiring professional treatment if the individual presents with significant levels of impairment. Psychotherapists treating the condition indicate the symptoms experienced by the individuals presenting for treatment appear similar to traditional substance-related addictions, including salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse[ 11 ]. This view is reflected by patients who seek treatment for their excessive gaming[ 13 ].

In 2002, the South Korean government-funded National Information Society Agency has opened the first Internet addiction prevention counselling centre worldwide, and has since developed large-scale projects (including prevention, training, counselling, treatment, and policy formulation) to tackle the pervasive problem of technology overuse[ 14 ]. Across the United States and Europe, Internet addiction treatment is not funded by the government, often leaving individuals seeking help either for other primary disorders or through private organisations, although new clinical centres that specialise in treating Internet-use related problems are being developed[ 15 ]. Based on the available evidence, recent research furthermore suggests that the best approach to treating Internet addiction is an individual approach, and a combination of psychopharmacotherapy with psychotherapy appears most efficacious[ 16 ].

To date, reviews have focused on clinical and treatment studies of Internet addiction[ 16 - 19 ] and Internet Gaming Disorder[ 2 ]. This arguably limits the analysis to a specific diagnosis of a potential disorder that has not yet been officially recognised in the Western world, rather than a comprehensive and inclusive investigation of Internet-use related addictions (including problematic Internet use) more generally. Previous reviews relied on overly restrictive inclusion criteria, and this has led to ambiguities in the conceptualisation of the problem, and consequently resulted in limitations regarding both validity and reliability. In order to overcome these problems, the aim of this literature review is to provide a comprehensive overview of clinical studies on the more inclusive clinical picture of Internet-use related addictions from a holistic perspective.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Between July and August 2015, a literature search was conducted using the database Web of Science. This database is more comprehensive than other commonly used databases, such as PsycINFO or PubMed because it includes various multidisciplinary databases. The following search terms (and their derivatives) were entered: “Internet addict*”, “Internet gaming addiction”, “gaming addiction”, “Internet Gaming Disorder”, “compuls* Internet use”, “compuls* gam*”, “pathological Internet use”, “excessive internet use”, or “problematic Internet use”, and “clinic*”, “diagnos*”, “treat*, “therap*”, or “patient*”. Studies were selected based on the following inclusion criteria. Studies had to (1) contain quantitative empirical data; (2) have been published after 2000; (3) include clinical samples and/or clinical interventions for Internet and/or gaming addiction; (4) provide a full-text article (rather than a conference abstract); and (5) be published in English, German, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, or French as the present authors speak these languages. The initial search yielded 152 results. Following a thorough inspection of the articles’ titles and abstracts, the articles that did not meet the inclusion criteria were excluded. The search strategy is presented in Figure ​ Figure1 1 .

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Flow chart displaying the search process.

Additional articles were identified through searching the citations in the literature selected, resulting in the inclusion of another eight studies[ 20 - 27 ].

A total of 46 studies met the inclusion criteria. These studies are presented in Table ​ Table1. 1 . The included studies used clinical samples, and focused on characteristics of treatment seekers and online addiction treatment. Four main types of clinical research studies were identified, namely research involving (1) treatment seeker characteristics; (2) psychopharmacotherapy; (3) psychological therapy; and (4) combined treatment. The results section will outline each of these.

Clinical studies reviewed

AD: Alcohol dependence; ADHD: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; AICA-C: Checklist for the assessment of internet and computer game addiction; AICA-S: Scale for the assessment of internet and computer game addiction; AUD: Alcohol use disorder; AUDIT-K: Korean version of alcohol use disorder identification test; BAI: Beck anxiety inventory; BDI: Beck depression inventory; BDI-II: Beck depression inventory II; BIS: Barratt impulsiveness scale; BIS-11: Barratt’s impulsivity scale-11; BSD: Bipolar spectrum disorders; BSQ: Body sensations questionnaire; CAARS:S: Conners’ adult ADHD rating scales self; CB: Compulsive buying; CBS: Compulsive buying scale; CBT: Cognitive behavioural therapy; CBT-IA: Cognitive-behavioural therapy for internet addiction; CDR: Centre for dependence rehabilitation; CDS-2: Cambridge depersonalization scale; C-FAI: Chinese family assessment instrument; CGI: Clinical global impression scale; CGI-I: Clinical global impressions-improvement scale; CIAS: Chen internet addiction scale; CIU: Compulsive internet use; CSEI: Coopersmith’s self-esteem inventory; CT: Comprehensive therapy; DAPP: Dimensional assessment of personality pathology-short form; DC-IA-C: Diagnostic criteria of internet addiction for college students; DES: Dissociative experience scale; DSQ: Defense style questionnaire; EA: Electroacupuncture; EEG: Electroencephalogram; ED: Eating disorders; EDI-2: Eating disorder inventory 2; EDU: Education for internet use; EOP: Excessive online game play; EPI: Echo-planar image; ERP: Event-related potentials; GAD-7: Seven-item generalized anxiety disorder; GPIU: Generalised pathological internet use; GSE: General self-efficacy scale; HC: Healthy controls; IA: Internet addiction; IAD: Internet addiction disorder; IAG: Internet video game addicts; IAT: Internet addiction test; IC-IUD: Impulsive-compulsive internet usage disorder; IGD: Internet gaming disorder; IIP-D: Inventory of interpersonal problems; IRSQ: Interpersonal relationship styles questionnaire; ITC: Inferior temporal cortex; K-IAS: K-internet addiction scale; MDD: Major depressive disorder; MDQ: Mood disorder questionnaire; MET: Motivational enhancement therapy; MFGT: Mechanism of multi-family group therapy; MI: Motivational interviewing; MINI: Mini international neuropsychiatric interview; MMN: Mismatch negativity; MRI: Mental research institute; NC: Normal controls; NEO-FFI: NEO five factors inventory; NEO-PI-R: NEO personality inventory-revised; OCD: Obsessive compulsive disorder; OCS: Online cognitions scale; PA: Panic and agoraphobia scale; PCC: Posterior cingulate cortex; PD: Panic disorder; PG: Problematic gambling disorder; PHQ: Patient health questionnaire; PI: Psycho-intervention; POGP: Problematic online game play; QGU-B: Questionnaire on gaming urge-belief; ReHo: Regional homogeneity; SADQ: Severity of alcohol dependence questionnaire; SARP: Substance addiction recovery program; SCARED: Screen for child anxiety related emotional disorders; SCID: Structured clinical interview for DSM-IV; SCID-IV: Structured clinical interview for DSM-IV-patient version; SCL: Symptom checklist; SCL-90R: Symptom checklist 90-revised; SG: Survey group; SOC: Sense of coherence scale; STAXI-K: State-trait anger expression inventory; STG: Superior temporal gyrus; TG: Training group; YBOCS: Yale-brown obsessive compulsive severity scale; YIAS: Young’s internet addiction scale; YIAS-K: Young's internet addiction scale, korean version; ZKPQ: Zuckermann-kuhlman personality questionnaire.

Treatment seeker characteristics

A total of 25 studies[ 19 , 26 , 27 , 32 , 43 , 50 , 62 , 72 , 78 , 79 , 93 , 106 , 109 , 111 , 112 , 118 , 124 , 130 , 133 , 143 , 146 , 163 , 164 , 188 , 204 ] investigated the characteristics of treatment seekers. Here, treatment seekers are defined as individuals seeking professional support for online addiction-related problems. The following paragraphs will outline the treatment seekers’ sociodemographic characteristics, Internet/gaming addiction measures used to ascertain diagnostic status in the respective studies, differential diagnoses and comorbidities.

Sociodemographic characteristics

In the included studies, sample sizes ranged from a case study of a male in Australia presenting with the problem of generalised pathological Internet use[ 112 ] to a total of 1826 clients sampled from 15 inpatient alcohol addiction rehabilitation centres in Germany, of which 71 also presented with Internet addiction and were then compared to a control group of 58 patients treated for alcohol addiction only[ 188 ]. Ages ranged from 16 years[ 112 ] to a mean age of 30.5 years[ 72 ]. The majority of studies used male participants, with one study using female participants only[ 50 ]. Most studies included individuals seeking treatment for Internet addiction and/or problematic Internet use in specialised inpatient and outpatient treatment centres. A number of studies included particular samples, such as individuals sampled via phone consultations ( i.e ., including 86% relatives of the affected individuals)[ 43 ], patients sampled in alcohol rehabilitation centres[ 130 ], patients diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)[ 46 ], and female patients treated for eating disorders[ 50 ].

Treatment seekers were sampled from various continents. Within Europe, samples included treatment seekers in Germany[ 43 , 78 , 124 , 130 , 133 , 164 , 188 , 197 ], The Netherlands[ 50 ], Italy[ 26 , 27 , 32 ], and Greece[ 79 ]. In North America, a Canadian sample was included[ 72 ]. In South America, samples included individuals from Perú[ 62 ], Puerto Rico[ 118 ], and Brazil[ 139 ]. In Western Asia, Turkish individuals were sampled in two studies[ 143 , 146 ], whereas in East Asia, participants were from China[ 163 , 204 ], South Korea[ 93 , 106 , 109 ], and Taiwan[ 113 ]. One case study included an Australian adolescent[ 112 ].

Internet/gaming addiction

Internet and/or gaming addiction were measured with a number of different psychometric tools in the included studies, sometimes combined with structured clinical interviews. Clinical interviews were explicitly mentioned in the reports of eight studies[ 32 , 50 , 62 , 93 , 106 , 109 , 164 , 204 ], and these consisted mostly of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV[ 64 ], a semi-structured interview for DSM-IV Axis I diagnoses for mental disorders.

In terms of psychometric measures, in the majority of studies, Young’s popular Internet Addiction Test[ 48 ], the IAT, was used[ 26 , 32 , 72 , 93 , 106 , 109 , 118 , 143 , 146 ]. The IAT is a 20-item self-report scale that measures the extent of Internet addiction based on criteria for substance dependence and pathological gambling[ 51 ], and includes loss of control, neglecting everyday life, relationships and alternative recreational activities, behavioural and cognitive salience, negative consequences, escapism/mood modification, and deception. Significant problems due to Internet use are identified if individuals score between 70-100 on the test, and frequent problems when they score between 40-69[ 48 ]. However, previous research has suggested that across studies, different cut-off scores for the IAT have been used to classify individuals[ 6 ], impairing comparisons across studies.

Another popular measure appeared to be the Assessment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction Scale (AICA-S)[ 44 , 194 ], which was used in seven studies[ 43 , 78 , 124 , 130 , 133 , 188 , 197 ]. The AICA-S is a 16-item scale and includes questions about the frequency of specific Internet usage, associated negative consequences and the extent to which use is pathological from a diagnostic point of view. Fourteen out of the total sixteen main questions are used to calculate a clinical score, and to distinguish normal from potentially addictive use[ 211 ].

Other measures included the Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS)[ 55 ], a 14-item unidimensional self-report questionnaire including loss of control, preoccupation (cognitive and behavioural), withdrawal symptoms, coping/mood modification, and conflict (inter- and intrapersonal). The CIUS classification is based on the DSM-IV TR diagnoses for substance dependence and pathological gambling[ 12 ], and was used in one study[ 50 ]. Moreover, in one study[ 79 ], the Online Cognitions Scale was used[ 80 ], which is a 36-item questionnaire that measures cognitions related to problematic Internet use, and includes subscales on loneliness/depression, diminished impulse control, social comfort, and distraction. In another study[ 113 ], Chen’s Internet Addiction Scale[ 117 ] was administered, which is a 26-item self-report measure of core Internet addiction symptoms, including tolerance, compulsive use, withdrawal, and related problems ( i.e ., negative impact on social activities, interpersonal relationships, physical condition, and time management). Another study[ 164 ] used the Internet Addiction Scale[ 212 ], as well as a combination of Young’s[ 213 ] and Beard’s[ 66 ] Internet addiction criteria, including preoccupation, tolerance, loss of control, withdrawal, overall impairment, deception, and escapism[ 164 ]. The latter was also used in another study[ 204 ].

A different approach was taken by Tao et al[ 163 ], who intended to develop diagnostic criteria for Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) and to evaluate the validity of these criteria. Accordingly, in order to be diagnosed with IAD, patients had to fulfil the following criteria: The presence of preoccupation and withdrawal (combined with at least one of the following: Tolerance, lack of control, continued excessive use despite knowledge of negative effects/affects, loss of interests excluding the Internet, and Internet use to escape or relieve a dysphoric mood). In addition to this, clinically significant impairment had to be identified ( i.e ., functional and psychosocial impairment), and the problematic behaviour had to last a minimum of three months, with at least six hours of non-essential Internet use a day. This study has been used as a basis for the APA’s research classification of Internet Gaming Disorder in the DSM-5.

As this section demonstrates, a wide variety of measurements have been applied in order to ascertain Internet or Internet-use related addiction, sometimes involving an expert assessment by an experienced professional. As has been stated in previous research[ 6 ], no gold standard exists to measure Internet addiction with high sensitivity and specificity, which is exacerbated by the use of different cut-off points on the same measures across studies. To mitigate this diagnostic conundrum, a diagnosis of Internet addiction would significantly benefit from including a structured clinical interview administered by a trained professional[ 214 ], and this would help eliminating false positives and false negatives in the context of diagnosis.

Differential diagnoses/comorbidities

A number of studies investigated differential diagnoses and/or comorbidity of Internet addiction and other psychopathology. In terms of assessing potential comorbidities, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV mental disorders[ 64 ] was used by five studies[ 32 , 50 , 93 , 106 , 164 ]. Psychopathological symptomatology was also assessed using the Symptom-Checklist, SCL-90-R[ 125 , 191 ] and the Chinese version of the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview[ 115 ]. Personality disorders were identified by using the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Pathology-Short Form[ 58 , 59 ]. Other addiction-related assessments included alcohol and drug addiction measured with the DÉBA[ 76 ], the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test-Korean version[ 95 ], and the Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire[ 205 ], as well as shopping addiction, assessed via the Compulsive Buying Scale[ 54 ]. The presence of eating disorders was assessed using the Eating Disorder Inventory 2[ 52 , 53 ]. Mood disorders were assessed using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression[ 39 ], Beck’s Depression Inventory[ 132 ], and the Mood Disorder Questionnaire[ 198 ]. Levels of anxiety were measured with the Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety[ 40 ], Beck’s Anxiety Inventory[ 74 ], and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD-7)[ 127 ]. Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were investigated by means of Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales Self (CAARS:S)[ 42 ]. Finally, dissociation and depersonalisation were measured using the Dissociative Experiences Scale[ 34 ] and the Cambridge Depersonalization Scale[ 128 ].

The results of comorbidity and differential diagnosis analyses revealed the following. Of 50 adult outpatients self-referred for their Internet overuse, 14% presented with comorbid ADHD, 7% hypomania, 15% GAD, 15% social anxiety disorder, 7% dysthymia, 7% obsessive compulsive personality disorder, 14% borderline personality disorder, 7% avoidant personality disorder, and 2% binge eating disorder[ 32 ]. Higher frequencies of comorbid psychopathology were reported in a sample of 30 male patients with Internet gaming addiction[ 62 ], namely 40% antisocial personality traits, 56.7% affective disorders (30% major depression and 26.7% dysthymia), 26.7% other addictions (13.3% gambling, 10% alcohol, 10% marihuana, 6.7% nicotine and 3.3% cocaine addiction), and 16.7% antisocial disorders (13.3% ADHD, social phobia 10% and 3.3% dysmorphic corporal disorder). Generally smaller prevalence rates were reported in a sample of 57 Internet addiction treatment seekers in Canada[ 72 ]: 3.5% presented with comorbid depression and 7.5% with anxiety.

Half of a sample of 50 students with Internet addiction[ 79 ] presented with a comorbidity of another Axis I disorder (10% with major depression, 5% with dysthymia and psychotic disorders, respectively). This finding was corroborated by another study of 290 male treatment seekers, half of whom met criteria for another psychiatric disorder[ 124 ]. In addition to this, of the former sample, 38% presented with a concurrent Axis II personality disorder (22% with narcissistic, and 10% with borderline disorder, respectively)[ 79 ]. Significantly higher levels of depression and dissociation were furthermore found in a sample of 25 patients with Internet addiction as compared to a matched healthy control group[ 164 ]. Moreover, relative to a control group of male patients treated for alcohol addiction, 71 male patients with alcohol addiction and comorbid Internet addiction presented with higher levels of depression and obsessive-compulsive symptoms[ 188 ]. Furthermore, another study[ 197 ] including 368 Internet addiction treatment seekers showed that 30.9% met the diagnostic criteria for bipolar spectrum disorders, and this study also evidenced generally increased psychopathological symptomatology (including substance use disorders, affective and personality disorders). Finally, significant positive correlations were reported between compulsive buying and compulsive Internet use, as 11.7% of a sample of 60 female patients displaying patterns of compulsive buying also presented with addictive Internet use. This study reported no differences between individuals presenting with different types of eating disorders regarding compulsive Internet use[ 50 ].

Moreover, patients with Internet addiction and patients with pathological gambling received higher scores on depression, anxiety[ 26 , 27 ], and lower scores on global functioning relative to healthy controls, used impulsive coping strategies, and experienced more socio-emotional impairment. Additionally, patients with Internet addiction differed from patients with pathological gambling in that the former experienced higher mental and behavioural disengagement, which was found to be associated with interpersonal impairments[ 26 ].

Overall, the presence of comorbidities for Internet-use related addiction in the clinical context appears to be the norm rather than an exception. Individuals seeking treatment for their Internet overuse frequently present with mood and anxiety disorders, and other impulse-control and addictive disorders appear common. This indicates Internet addiction treatment may benefit from therapeutic approaches that combine evidence-based treatments for co-occurring disorders in order to increase treatment efficacy and acceptability for the patient.

Psychopharmacotherapy

In five studies, psychopharmacotherapy[ 20 , 22 , 24 , 28 , 46 ] for online addictions was used. Atmaca[ 28 ] reported the case of a 23-year-old male 4 th year medical student who presented with the problems of problematic Internet use and anxiety. The patient was treated with a combination of selective serotonine reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and antipsychotic medication. The antidepressant citalopram was administered at a dose of 20 mg/d and was increased to 40 mg/d within the period of a week, which was continued for six weeks. Subsequently, quetiapine (an atypical antipsychotic typically used for schizophrenia spectrum disorders) was added to the treatment, starting with a dose of 50 mg/d, which was increased to 200 mg/d within four days. The treatment resulted in decreased Internet addiction as measured with the Y-BOCS[ 30 ] modified for Internet use, decreased non-essential and essential Internet use, and improved control over Internet use. The improvements persisted until four-month follow up.

Bipeta et al[ 46 ] compared 34 control subjects with or without Internet addiction assessed via Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire[ 48 ] with patients with pure OCD with or without Internet addiction (mean age = 27 years, SD = 6.5 years). OCD patients were treated with standard pharmacological treatment for OCD (treatment as usual) for one year, received the benzodiazepine clonazepam (often used in the treatment of anxiety disorders), which was tapered off in three weeks, an SSRI or the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine for 12 mo. The individuals with Internet addiction in the OCD group received the following doses of medication: Five patients received 150-200 mg fluvoxamine/d, four received 150-200 mg sertraline/d, one received 60 mg fluoxetine/d, and the final one received 200 mg clomipramine/d. In the OCD group that included individuals who were not addicted to using the Internet, the following doses of medication were administered: Eight patients received 150-300 mg fluvoxamine/d, five received 100-200 mg sertraline/d, eleven received 40-80 mg fluoxetine/d, and three received 150-200 mg clomipramine/d. Overall, the OCD treatment improved scores for both OCD and Internet addiction, while only two of the eleven OCD patients still fulfilled Internet addiction criteria after twelve months of treatment[ 46 ].

Dell’Osso et al[ 20 ] assessed the safety and efficacy of the antidepressant SSRI escitalopram (typically used for mood disorders) in 19 adult patients (12 men, mean age = 38.5, SD = 12.0 years) who presented with the problem of impulsive-compulsive Internet usage disorder assessed via the YBOCS[ 30 ], modified for Internet use. The trial consisted of a total of 19 wk, composed of a ten week treatment phase in which escitalopram was administered starting with 10 mg/d, and increased and maintained at 20 mg/d for 10 wk, and subsequent nine weeks of a randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial with or without administration of escitalopram at previous dosages. The treatment phase resulted in a significant decrease in Internet use. However, there were no differences in treatment effect between the treatment and placebo group following the second stage of the study. The authors also note that the group treated with escitalopram experienced negative side effects, including fatigue and sexual side effects, whereas side effects did not occur in the placebo group[ 20 ].

Han et al[ 26 ] used a controlled trial to test the effects of the antidepressant bupropion sustained release treatment (with a dose of 150 mg/d for the first week and 300 mg/d for five subsequent weeks) on the brain activity of eleven Internet video game addicts (mean age = 21.5, SD = 5.6 years), assessed via Young’s Internet Addiction Scale[ 216 ]. The results indicated that the administered psychopharmacological treatment provided successful results for the video game addiction group, as it decreased craving, playing time, and cue-induced brain activity. These authors[ 22 ] also used the central nervous system stimulant concerta (methylphenidate commonly used for ADHD) in 62 video game playing children with ADHD (52 males, mean age = 9.3, SD = 2.2 years) who had not previously been given medication. Internet addiction was assessed using the Korean version of Young’s Internet Addiction Scale[ 87 ]. The initial concerta dosage was 18 mg/d, with the maintenance dosage being individually adjusted based on the respective children’s clinical symptoms and weight. Following treatment, Internet addiction and Internet use significantly decreased, as did ADHD symptoms and omission errors in a Visual Continuous Performance Test[ 22 ].

Taken together, the studies including psychopharmacological treatment for Internet addiction and/or gaming addiction showed positive effects in decreasing Internet addiction symptomatology and Internet/gaming use times. In the few studies conducted, antidepressant medication has been used most, suggesting mood disorders may be comorbid with Internet use addiction. The research also indicated that if other (primary or secondary) disorders are present (specifically, OCD and ADHD), medication typically used to treat these disorders is also effective in reducing Internet addiction-related problems.

Psychological therapy

Ten studies[ 23 , 65 , 86 , 119 , 136 , 149 , 174 , 201 - 203 ] described some form of psychological therapy for treating Internet addiction. The majority of psychological therapies used an individual approach, which was applied to outpatients, apart from three studies that used group therapy approaches[ 23 , 65 , 119 , 136 , 149 ].

The most common approach used to treat Internet addiction was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)[ 86 , 202 ]. This approach was usually individualised (apart from one study which used a group approach[ 65 ]). A further study used a combination of individualised and group therapy, namely Short-Term Treatment for Internet and Computer Game Addiction[ 192 ]. The typical CBT programme was administered for the duration of a few months, ranging from eight sessions[ 65 ] to 28 sessions, which included both group and individual sessions[ 192 ], and sessions lasted between one[ 86 ] and two hours[ 65 ]. The topics covered with patients in these sessions were: (1) identification of the Internet application associated with symptoms of addiction; (2) control issues ( e.g ., examining the self, feelings, impulsivity, and the relation between the individual and the Internet to self-manage and self-restrain Internet use); (3) principles of healthy communication, namely interpersonal communication, such as between parent-children[ 65 ], and sharing success stories[ 86 ]; (4) Internet awareness (with regards to relationships established and developed through the Internet, and dealing with online content); (5) cessation techniques applied to the Internet ( e.g ., recognizing the addictive behaviour and discontinuing it); and (6) additional elements ( e.g ., college career planning, covering underlying factors contributing to Internet abuse, such as marital discord, job burnout, problems with co-workers, or academic problems). In general, CBT followed a number of stages, including team building or a probatory stage to review sessions or stabilization and relapse prevention. All sessions were run by therapists[ 119 , 192 ] or psychiatrists[ 86 ] who were supporting adults, apart from one case that involved children and adolescents[ 65 ].

The treatment outcomes were measured through scores on a number of psychometric scales covering excessive Internet use, including the Internet Overuse Self-Rating Scale[ 67 , 68 ], the Adolescent Pathological Internet Use Scale[ 120 ], the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire[ 48 ], and the assessment of emotional, cognitive and behavioural symptoms. The following emotional skills and problems were measured in some studies. Anxiety was assessed using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders[ 71 ] and self-esteem was measured with Coopersmith’s Self-Esteem Inventory[ 103 ]. Cognitive skills covered were diverse, and measures included the Online Cognition Scale (OCS)[ 80 ], and the Time Management Disposition Scale[ 69 ]. The behavioural characteristics related to Internet addiction primarily concerned the individual, but also included their peer and family relationships, and were measured using the Chinese version of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire[ 70 ], and the Parent-Child Communication Scale[ 122 ]. Only one study[ 86 ] did not make use of questionnaires because it was a neuropsychological and electrophysiological study conducted using an event-related potential approach, focused on cognitive function by detecting a P300 component. The results of this study indicated there was a deficit in cognitive functioning in Internet addicts, which is a finding that has also been observed in other addictive disorders[ 215 ].

Four of the included group therapy approaches (out of five studies) included Internet addicts and family groups treated simultaneously. These included (1) a CBT modality called “multimodal school-based group” (MSBG)[ 65 ]; (2) a “multi-family group therapy” (MFGT), which was used for treating Internet addiction for the first time[ 119 ]; (3) a traditional family therapy for a young adult addicted to using the Internet[ 136 ]; and (4) a “multi-level intervention model” that is usually applied to substance abuse, which included family counselling and peer support groups[ 149 ].

The psychotherapeutic MSBG approach was applied in a school setting and involved students, parents and teachers. The group of Internet addicts were students treated using classical CBT in a group ranging from six to ten participants. The students’ parents were also administered cognitive behavioural training to recognize their children’s Internet addiction (through children’s feeling states, communication and solving-problem skills in the family, and through controlling the parents’ own feelings and behaviours to manage their children’s excessive Internet use). Teachers were provided psychoeducation, which was delivered by means of workshops in didactic teaching, analysis and discussion, with the purpose of recognising and treating Internet addiction in students, and of supporting their parents.

MFGT is a new psychotherapy approach for adolescent Internet addicts[ 119 ]. This intervention provides therapeutic groups for both adults (parents) and adolescents (Internet addicts), and the aim is to provide peer support, allowing transferential reactions, engagement with the treatment and promoting family cohesion. The main goal of this form of psychotherapy is to reduce Internet addiction whilst improving parent-adolescent communication and closeness, and to fulfil the family members’ psychological needs, rather than these needs being fulfilled by Internet use. Altogether, six active sessions were used, with a subsequent three-month follow-up to target potential relapse and discuss new issues and solutions to maintain the effectiveness of the intervention. Each of the sessions lasted for two hours and included five parts: a warm-up exercise, feedback on homework from the last session, a main structured activity, a brief summary and the family assignment. The topics treated per session were: Understanding a family with the problem of excessive Internet use (session 1), parent-adolescent communication skills training (session 2), parent-adolescent communication practices related to the problem (sessions 2 and 3), parent-adolescent relationship building skills training (session 4), associations between psychological needs and Internet use, how to satisfy the unfulfilled need in the family relationships (session 5), and setting up healthy expectations for the family system (session 6).

The classical family therapy approach used in one study[ 136 ] was based on Bowen’s[ 216 ] family system theory, which focused on the distinction of the self-inside from the self within the family constellation, and was based on an extensive analysis of family-of-origin problems and communication patterns. The treatment was focused on current interactions and changes in behaviour in the family system[ 217 ] to modify the family’s communication method by changing behaviours that maintain problematic Internet use, and coping with Internet overuse related problems. The therapy focused on an undesirable online behaviour and replacing it with a healthy behaviour, which would simultaneously induce a change in the family relationships. The intervention lasted three months and included 15 sessions. It treated emotional problems to enhance control over Internet use, and included functional and emotional expression to solve interpersonal relationship problems associated with Internet addiction.

The multi-level intervention model included an individual-based counselling approach with motivational interviewing (MI), complementary techniques, and traditional family-based counselling[ 149 ]. It consisted of six phases, lasting between 15 and 19 mo. The phases included (1) emphasising controlled and healthy Internet use; (2) promoting understanding of the change process through different stages from pre-contemplation to relapse, (3) using the MI model[ 218 ] for Internet addiction; (4) adopting a family perspective by using a systemic approach; (5) applying a multi-level counselling model including the patient, his/her family and his/her peers; and (6) using individual and group therapy to facilitate the intervention.

The only group approach that did not include a family intervention was the R/T group counselling programme, which specifically addressed Internet addiction[ 23 ]. It consisted of ten group sessions (two per week) within the period of one month, which varied in length between one and 1.5 h. Accredited specialists provided this intervention for university students. The content included an introduction to the therapy goal, teaching, activities, homework assignment and sharing. Each session furthermore included four sections: The purpose, materials ( e.g ., blank paper, topic-oriented games, posters, videos), strategies ( e.g ., discussion topics, homework assignments) and session evaluation for both the individual and their family, in order to assess whether the aim of the sessions had been achieved.

Overall, the psychological studies which included a control group to compare the effect of the interventions achieved varying results, impeding a general analysis of psychotherapy impact. Du et al[ 65 ] did not find significant differences between experimental and control groups in the post-test measure of Internet overuse, although the intervention group improved their time management (efficacy and time control) and other skills (emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer relationships and prosocial behaviours) significantly, and this was maintained until a six-month follow-up. Other comparative findings included a longer P300 component duration in Internet addicts treated by CBT compared to healthy controls[ 86 ]. However, the amplitudes were similar in both groups. Moreover, although Internet addiction symptoms were reduced after treatment in the experimental group[ 149 ], this was not the case for the group’s scores on beliefs and behaviours related to Internet use and psychological well-being, and there was only a small improvement in parental monitoring and functioning following treatment.

Only two studies (out of four experimental studies) showed a clear effectiveness of psychological therapy, and both of these used a group approach. Kim[ 23 ] used a quasi-experimental design and an intervention with a group psychotherapy approach, and found a significant reduction in Internet addiction and significantly higher self-esteem in the experimental group compared to the control group. Liu et al[ 119 ] found that their MFGT approach was effective in three aspects. It resulted in a significant reduction of time spent online (reduced by half in comparison to the controls), a decrease in the Internet addiction measure, and, from the parents’ perspective, more satisfaction regarding their child’s online behaviours. Moreover, the most important factor to reduce Internet addiction in this study was found to be the parent-adolescent relationship.

Combined therapy

Six studies used combined therapy to treat Internet addiction, consisting of some form of psychological treatment in combination with one of the following: Other psychological therapies[ 138 , 180 ], pharmacotherapy[ 21 , 25 , 139 ] or electroacupuncture therapy[ 221 ].

CBT was the most frequently applied psychological therapy to treat Internet addiction. Subsequently, add-ons to the CBT approach included in the identified studies will be elaborated on. Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) was developed by Poddar et al[ 138 ] and was tested in the context of treating IGD. This MET-CBT approach consisted of a series of stages: (1) a contemplation stage ( i.e ., initial sessions of rapport building, a detailed interview and case formulation); (2) a preparation stage ( i.e ., sessions delivered in an empathetic atmosphere to emphasise psychoeducation, including managing physiological and emotional arousal through relaxation techniques, and a cost-benefit analysis of game addiction); and (3) a contract stage with the patient, a parent and the therapist ( i.e ., behaviour modification of gaming, reducing time spent online and promoting healthy activities). By applying these stages, a reduction of IGD and online gaming was achieved, and school performance was improved.

Another case study[ 139 ] combined CBT with psychopharmacotherapy [ i.e ., administering clonazepam (a benzodiazepine typically used to treat anxiety disorders) and sertraline (an SSRI antidepressant)] to treat Internet addiction. The intervention lasted for three months, and consisted of the following. The CBT approach aimed to support self-recognition and modify and restructure feelings and dysfunctional cognitions related to Internet use, with the goal to prevent relapse. CBT was administered for ten weekly sessions to teach the patient to handle her anxiety and other symptoms related to her Internet use (in this case panic and obsessive symptomatology, which was comorbid to her Internet addiction). Clonazepam (0.5 mg) and sertraline (50 mg) were also administrated once daily. The applied treatment proved effective for reducing both anxiety and Internet addiction.

A new treatment approach to treat Internet addiction combined CBT and MI with an on-the-job Lifestyle Training programme[ 180 ]. Treatment was delivered by qualified therapists who were supervised by a senior therapist for both main psychological therapies. The treatment consisted of eliciting and strengthening the motivation to change, choosing a treatment goal, gaining self-control, preventing relapse, and coping skills training. Ten outpatient sessions of 45 min were used, and seven of these took place within a period of 2.5 mo. The remaining sessions were optional and were administered as a follow-up within 3 mo. Each of the sessions had a fixed format: (1) introduction; (2) evaluation of current status; (3) discussing homework; (4) explaining the theme of the day; (5) practicing a skill; (6) receiving homework; and (7) closing the session. This study was the only study that provided three perspectives for data collection: The patients’, the therapists’ and the researchers’ perspectives. This intervention, which is commonly used for other addictive disorders, was found to work well for Internet addiction as it reduced Internet use, increased social contacts, provided a daily structure, and encouraged alternative uses of free time and positive beliefs.

Moreover, CBT was most frequently used in combination with a psychopharmacological treatment, such as administering bupropion. The reason to select this medication is because a proportion of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) are also excessive online gamers, and this drug has been previously evaluated as potential treatment for MDD and other drug-addictions. Recently, its effectiveness has been tested and confirmed experimentally[ 21 , 25 ]. Han and Renshaw[ 21 ] tested this combined treatment in Chinese male adolescent and adult patients with mood disorders and online gaming addiction, and treated them with bupropion sustained release (from 150 mg/d until 300 mg/d during 8 wk) and a psychological intervention ( i.e ., education for Internet use). The treatment resulted in significantly decreased depression and Internet addiction levels, and time spent playing online games compared with the control group. At follow-up ( i.e ., four weeks post treatment), the reduction in gaming hours and level of Internet addiction was maintained, while the depression recurred.

Similarly, Kim et al[ 25 ] tested the effectiveness of CBT in an active treatment group vs a control group who did not receive CBT in Korean male adolescent patients with MMD and online gaming addiction. Both groups were treated using the same levels of bupropion. Following treatment, Internet addiction was significantly reduced in the CBT group and other measures showed improvement ( e.g ., anxiety and life satisfaction), while depression severity did not change. These findings were maintained at follow-up. Therefore, the combination of psychotherapy with bupropion is effective in MDD patients with online gaming addiction in the long term only for online gaming addiction, and the time spent using online games. Both studies with bupropion were managed by psychiatrists, and one[ 25 ] used a multidisciplinary treatment team including a psychiatrist, nurse, psychologist, and social worker.

One study used clonazepam (0.5 mg/d) and sertraline (50 mg/d) combined with CBT to treat Internet addiction[ 139 ]. This study reported the case of a young Brazilian woman with Internet addiction and comorbid psychiatric disorders ( i.e ., panic and OCDs). During the treatment period of ten weeks, both drugs were administered daily whilst CBT was provided once a week, and focused on teaching the patient how to handle anxiety and Internet use through breathing training with diaphragmatic exercises, education about both disorders’ symptoms and about Internet use ( e.g ., time management, triggers of problematic Internet use, changing habits, cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention, promotion of social support, alternative activities, and promotion of functional Internet use). This combined treatment was effective for all conditions treated.

Zhu et al[ 207 ] combined a psychological intervention ( i.e ., CBT with sessions every four days for a total treatment period of 40 d) with electroacupuncture in 120 patients presenting with Internet addiction in China. They used three groups: 40 participants in the electroacupuncture group, 36 participants in the psychological intervention group, and 37 individuals participated in the comprehensive therapy group combining both treatment ingredients. Electroacupuncture was applied at acupoints Baihui (GV20), Sishencong (EX-HN1), Hegu (LI4), Neiguan (PC6), Taichong (LR3), and Sanyinjiao (SP6), and retained for 30 min once every other day. Overall, treatment was effective in all groups as Internet addiction symptomatology was successfully decreased, whereas this effect was significantly stronger in the combined therapy group relative to the other groups. The authors furthermore note that the combined treatment improved cognitive function in Internet addiction by means of accelerating stimuli discrimination and information processing on the level of the brain.

Combined therapies have shown effective results for treating Internet addiction, including both post-treatment and follow-up measures. The use of electroacupuncture in combination with a psychological intervention improved treatment success for Internet addiction more than providing cognitive-behavioural treatment only, suggesting the novel therapy electroacupuncture may be beneficial in the treatment of Internet addiction. It is suggested to replicate this study to verify the positive results.

Conversely, given the results found by the included studies, psychopharmacotherapy does not always appear to be as efficacious for psychological problems, such as major depression, as it is for Internet and gaming addiction. This is an interesting finding, because it seems that Internet addiction is usually accompanied by other psychological disorders. Therefore, combining therapies may be a good option for some clients, and should be managed by interdisciplinary teams with structured mid-term interventions.

This systematic literature review has sought to provide an overview of the currently available clinical research on Internet addiction and problematic Internet use using a holistic perspective. Clinical studies concerning Internet addiction, problematic Internet use and excessive online gaming have been included to offer a comprehensive insight into the relevant research to date. A total of 46 empirical clinical studies were identified, which focused on treatment seeker characteristics and different types of therapy provisions. Treatments included psychopharmacotherapy, psychological therapy, and combined treatment. Each of these will be discussed subsequently.

In terms of treatment seeker characteristics, the included studies indicated that the published research ranged from case studies to including patients treated for problematic Internet use in both inpatient and outpatient settings across 13 countries and four continents. It is worth noting that a number of studies indicated that comorbidities appear to be the norm, rather than an exception for individuals who present with the problem of Internet addiction or problematic Internet use. Comorbid mood and anxiety disorders appear to be particularly common. A link between mood disorders and Internet addiction has been suggested in previous research, including both adolescent[ 88 , 210 - 227 ] and adult samples[ 228 - 233 ]. A possible explanation for this strong and frequent link may be the fact that as Internet use increases, online activities take up gradually more time in the lives of Internet users. This reduces the time available to participate in alternative enjoyable pastime activities and to engage with real-life family and friendship circles, which may lead to increased loneliness and stress[ 234 ]. Alternatively, Internet use and gaming may serve as a method to escape real-life problems, effectively resulting in avoidance coping, which may exacerbate stress and negative feelings, and lead to negative consequences, including addiction and depression[ 235 ].

Moreover, a number of earlier studies have shown that anxiety disorders and anxiety-related symptoms, including social phobia, phobic anxiety, and OCD co-occur with Internet addiction in adolescents[ 88 , 236 - 238 ] and adults[ 230 , 238 ]. Previous research including Internet addiction treatment experts from six countries indicated that a large percentage of individuals presenting with Internet addiction at both in-patient and out-patient treatment facilities suffer from comorbid anxiety disorders, most commonly social anxiety and social phobia[ 11 ]. This may be explained through the mechanism of compensation, suggesting individuals who have difficulties engaging and bonding with their peers in real life may instead use the Internet for social interaction, as the online space removes the embodied (and potentially anxiety-provoking) elements from the interaction. These elements include the individual’s outward appearance and the exclusion of (often feared) face-to-face contact in favour of virtual (and often text-based) interaction. This may facilitate social interaction by increased likelihood of self-disclosure[ 239 ], online disinhibition[ 240 ], and hyperpersonal communication, characterised by the increased speed of developing social bonds and intimacy online[ 241 ].

The research presented indicated that comorbidities complicate treatment. This literature review has shown that comorbidities are very common in the context of Internet addiction, emphasising the necessity to investigate the extent to which Internet addiction can be considered a primary or a secondary disorder ( i.e ., secondary to some other psychopathology). Researchers have suggested that given the presence of comorbidity, it is questionable whether Internet addiction deserves an individual diagnosis, as this may lead to other (primary) disorders being underdiagnosed. This may lead to problems regarding efficient treatment choices on behalf of the mental healthcare professionals given that efficacious treatments exist for the more prevalent disorders, such as anxiety and mood disorders[ 242 ], whereas the evidence base for Internet addiction treatment is still rather limited in comparison. However, research has also indicated that some symptoms of Internet addiction appear as stand-alone symptoms and can be differentiated from other psychopathology, providing empirical evidence for the discriminant validity and specificity of the Internet addiction construct[ 243 ]. If comorbidity is present in individuals presenting with Internet addiction or problematic Internet use, clinicians need to target both problems in treatment as research has indicated that individuals with comorbid psychopathology (specifically co-occurring Axis I mental disorders) present with more clinical problems[ 79 ].

In terms of psychopharmacotherapy, the five studies included in this systematic literature review showed that SSRIs ( i.e ., citalopram, clomipramine, fluvoxamine, sertraline, fluoxetine, escitalopram), norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRI; i.e ., buproprion), benzodiazepines ( i.e ., clonazepam), antipsychotic medication ( i.e ., quetiapine), and methylphenidate (i.e ., concerta) were used to treat Internet addiction and Internet-use related problems. Overall, in the included studies, the use of psychopharmacological treatment to alleviate Internet and gaming addiction symptomatology and time spent online appeared successful, suggesting that Internet addiction is an indication for the use of the administered medications[ 20 , 22 , 24 , 28 , 46 ].

The diverse range of administered medication corresponds with the diverse range of presenting problems of the samples included. For instance, concerta is a drug which is efficacious in treating ADHD and therefore commonly used in ADHD treatment[ 244 ] as it has been shown to improve inhibition, motivation and memory by increasing dopamine and norephinephrine concentrations in the brain[ 245 ]. Moreover, given the relatively high prevalence of both mood and anxiety disorders with comorbid Internet addiction as described above, it is not surprising that antidepressant medications and benzodiazepines are frequently used in the pharmacological treatment of Internet addiction. SSRIs are the method of choice for mood and anxiety disorders and related symptoms[ 246 ], and benzodiazepines have anti-anxiety and relaxing properties[ 247 ]. Despite their off-label status in countries including the United Kingdom and Australia, NDRIs are often prescribed for depression-related symptoms and disorders[ 248 ]. In sum, the studied psychopharmacological treatments for Internet addiction proved efficacious in decreasing both Internet addiction symptoms as well as symptoms of other psychopathologies for which the specific medications have been licensed. Even so, clinicians need to assess the costs and benefits of the medication they are prescribing for treating Internet addiction as some side effects may impact treatment acceptability and treatment adherence in patients.

Regarding psychological therapy for Internet addiction and problematic Internet use, ten studies were identified, most of which used a group therapy framework to support clients. Group therapy has a number of advantages over individual therapy. According to the American Psychological Association[ 249 ], the benefits of group therapy include establishing a support network of individuals who experience similar problems and are faced with similar difficulties. Other group members’ stories may put the patients’ own problems into perspective. Moreover, group therapy may create a safe environment in which the sensitive topic of Internet-use related addiction can be discussed openly. Group therapy has the benefit of offering the possibility to learn from others and consequently improve coping skills as individuals differ in their ways they face the world and deal with their lives. These benefits explain why group therapy frameworks are popular psychological therapies for Internet addiction and Internet use-related problems.

The addition of the family network into therapy sessions as evidenced in studies on multimodal school based groups[ 65 ], MFGT[ 119 ], family therapy[ 136 ], and a multi-level intervention model[ 149 ] appears particularly fruitful for young patients, as families are important social groups supporting the young patients’ development. Families teach values, offer emotional attachment, model appropriate behaviours, and discourage high-risk behaviours[ 250 ]. The efficacy of group-based and systemic therapy for adolescents with problems of substance use and addiction has been long established[ 251 ], and suggests that therapeutic frameworks derived from family-based therapies for these disorders may be similarly efficacious in the treatment of Internet addiction and problematic Internet use. The included studies have verified this contention, and therefore clinicians are advised to incorporate families in the psychological treatment of young patients (including adolescents and young adults).

The most commonly applied therapy form was CBT or some variation thereof ( e.g ., CBT-IA)[ 202 ], which has frequently been used in an individual format. The primary goal of CBT is to change maladaptive cognitions and behaviours associated with Internet use, and this therapy form is in line with Davis’[ 252 ] cognitive-behavioural model of pathological Internet use. The model suggests cognitive factors are particularly important in the development and maintenance of Internet addiction. In the included studies, cognitive measures indicated that CBT is efficacious in reducing cognitive impairment associated with Internet addiction[ 86 ]. However, Winkler et al[ 17 ] examined the efficacy of different treatments for Internet addiction in a meta-analysis which included 13 studies, and their results showed that CBT did not perform significantly better than other psychological treatments, although CBT appears to be the most popular approach for treating Internet addiction.

Finally, a number of studies have simultaneously included different forms of therapy, namely psychological treatment supplemented with other types of psychological therapy[ 138 , 180 ], pharmacotherapy[ 21 , 25 , 139 ] or electroacupuncture therapy[ 219 ]. Taken together, all of the combined therapies were efficacious in treating Internet use-related problems, whereas the benefits for comorbid psychopathology ( e.g ., depression) were limited. This suggests that in cases where comorbidity is present and psychopharmacological treatment is administered, the clinician and researcher need to carefully monitor the patient’s progress, adjust the dosage of the medication and/or change the medication administered to achieve the best possible results for the patient. Moreover, as the new treatment modality of electroacupuncture outperformed psychological interventions, it is suggested that researchers replicate these positive results to ensure they hold across other samples.

A number of limitations need to be highlighted in the included studies. Only a few studies ( e.g .,[ 20 , 21 , 23 , 24 , 26 , 27 , 46 , 65 , 78 , 93 , 109 , 119 , 133 , 143 , 188 , 204 ]) included a control group, making it difficult to ascertain whether the positive effects of treatment on Internet addiction symptom and related problem reduction were due to the administered treatment, or to non-specific factors of treatment [ i.e ., the placebo effect (the improvement of symptoms with no treatment)], which can be due to natural history and statistical regression to the mean, among other factors[ 253 ]. Moreover, a lack of intention-to-treat analysis in the reported studies might have caused bias in the results due to treatment non-compliance, changes from the initial treatment protocol, or leaving out data from individuals who dropped out of the study before or during the course of treatment[ 254 ].

For future research, the need to utilise validated and reliable measures of Internet addiction and/or problematic Internet use needs to be stressed. Currently, the diagnostic and research landscape appears particularly broad, and diagnostic criteria used to identify the potential disorder are not globally agreed upon. Researchers are recommended to collaborate to establish a consensus regarding diagnostic criteria and measures in order to improve the reliability across studies and to develop effective and efficient treatment approaches for treatment seekers. This will furthermore contribute to providing an incentive for public policy and healthcare providers to offer funding for those who need professional help. Ultimately, research and clinical initiatives need to focus on providing the best possible care for individuals who experience significant impairment and distress as a consequence of their Internet use.

Over the last 15 years, the number of Internet users has increased by 1000%, and at the same time, research on addictive Internet use has proliferated. Internet addiction has not yet been understood very well, and research on its etiology and natural history is still in its infancy. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association included Internet Gaming Disorder in the appendix of the updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders as condition that requires further research prior to official inclusion in the main manual, with important repercussions for research and treatment.

Research frontiers

To date, reviews have focused on clinical and treatment studies of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder. This arguably limits the analysis to a specific diagnosis of a potential disorder that has not yet been officially recognised in the Western world, rather than a comprehensive and inclusive investigation of Internet-use related addictions (including problematic Internet use) more generally.

Innovations and breakthroughs

The aim of this literature review is to provide a comprehensive overview of clinical studies on the clinical picture of Internet-use related addictions from a holistic perspective.

Applications

Researchers are recommended to collaborate to establish a consensus regarding diagnostic criteria and measures in order to improve the reliability across studies and to develop effective and efficient treatment approaches for treatment seekers. This will furthermore contribute to providing an incentive for public policy and healthcare providers to offer funding for those who need professional help. Ultimately, research and clinical initiatives need to focus on providing the best possible care for individuals who experience significant impairment and distress as a consequence of their Internet use.

Terminology

Internet addiction is a condition that requires further research prior to official inclusion in the diagnostic manuals, with important repercussions for research and treatment. To date, reviews have focused on clinical and treatment studies of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder. This arguably limits the analysis to a specific diagnosis of a potential disorder that has not yet been officially recognised in the Western world, rather than a comprehensive and inclusive investigation of Internet-use related addictions (including problematic Internet use) more generally.

Peer-review

In this systematic review, the authors have presented a thorough and critical analysis of clinical research on Internet addiction related studies.

Supported by A grant from the European Commission (“Tech Use Disorders”; Grant ID: FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF-627999) awarded to Olatz Lopez-Fernandez.

Conflict-of-interest statement: No potential conflicts of interest relevant to this article were reported.

Data sharing statement: No additional data are available.

Open-Access: This article is an open-access article which was selected by an in-house editor and fully peer-reviewed by external reviewers. It is distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

Peer-review started: September 6, 2015

First decision: October 27, 2015

Article in press: January 7, 2016

P- Reviewer: Lai C S- Editor: Qi Y L- Editor: A E- Editor: Jiao XK

Google’s retiring of Internet archiving tool draws ire of China researchers

The search giant’s cached links long helped researchers keep track of China’s heavily censored internet.

Google China - LP LEAD

Taipei, Taiwan – For researchers of China, keeping up with the country’s politics or economy is hard enough due to its opaque leadership and pervasive censorship.

Now they face a challenge from an unexpected source: Google.

Keep reading

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Late last year, Google began quietly removing links to cached pages from its search results, a function that had allowed Internet users to view old versions of web pages.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search, confirmed earlier this month that the function had been discontinued.

“It was meant for helping people access pages when way back, you often couldn’t depend on a page loading. These days, things have greatly improved. So, it was decided to retire it,” Sullivan said in a post on X earlier this month.

Although originally introduced to improve internet performance, Google’s cache function had the unintended effect of boosting transparency and became an invaluable resource for researchers.

Hey, catching up. Yes, it's been removed. I know, it's sad. I'm sad too. It's one of our oldest features. But it was meant for helping people access pages when way back, you often couldn't depend on a page loading. These days, things have greatly improved. So, it was decided to… — Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) February 1, 2024

Academics, journalists and others used cached pages to view past incarnations of websites and deleted content – a particularly useful tool for China’s internet, which Beijing carefully edits to avoid embarrassment and ward off potential dissent.

“The loss of the Google cache function will be a blow to China researchers who have long leaned on this function to preserve access to information that may later be removed, particularly in research citations,” Kendra Schaefer, the head of tech policy research at Trivium China, told Al Jazeera.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the change to Al Jazeera.

“Google’s cached page feature was born over two decades ago, at a time when pages might not be dependably available. The web – and web serving as a whole – has greatly improved since then, making the need for cached pages less necessary,” the spokesperson said by email.

China’s “Great Firewall” means that popular sites from Wikipedia to Facebook are inaccessible without a virtual private network, while its government censors trawl the web for sensitive content to remove.

Taboo topics

In addition to taboo topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping, censors have taken aim at targets ranging from the socially conscious Chinese rock band Slap to comments made by the late Premier Li Keqiang about strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention work.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing closely monitored and removed undesirable content and has since then been trying to rewrite the post-pandemic narrative by suppressing politically inconvenient scientific studies and international news reports.

There are alternatives to Google’s cached pages, namely the non-profit Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

But Google’s removal of cached links makes it harder to know what is missing in the first place, said Dakota Cary, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub.

“We’re not going to know how much we are missing because we can’t measure what was lost, because it’s not something we can see any more,” Cary told Al Jazeera.

Even dead links in Google’s search results could give researchers pointers or show how a website had been changed, he said.

“Now you have to expand the ways in which you might think about doing or looking for certain items and maybe ask people who specialise in a particular place if they have access or have a backup of a particular document. The way that research is conducted is going be a lot more difficult,” Cary added.

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Graham Webster, the editor-in-chief of the DigiChina Project at Stanford University, said he was less concerned about the impact – mainly because Western sites like Google and Wayback Machine had not been as thorough at scouring the Chinese internet as other domains.

“Cached pages have at times been a resource for China researchers to access deleted pages for usually a short period after they come down. [The Internet Archive] Archive.org generally was not crawling the net as thoroughly and sometimes, it would not grab the key parts of a page but it’s still a resource if you know the URL you’re looking for,” Webster told Al Jazeera.

Cary said Google’s decision to step away from “backing up the internet” raises questions about whose responsibility it should be to keep a record going forward.

“Archiving is an incredibly useful function and given the way that so much of our lives has transformed into this digital medium, I don’t know if we’ve really taken steps to preserve the information that’s put out and published on the internet.”

Cary said inspiration could be taken from the US government, which does extensive work archiving online content produced by foreign governments and other sources.

“There’s a whole system for that and it seems like maybe this is a place where our systems could kind of adapt to the age that we now live in.”

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