“The VPN effect and the web’s missing billion” – Jason Mander at #qznextbillion

This week I was at Quartz’s event “The Next Billion”. Here are my notes from a session which featured Jason Mander wondering if there are a billion people missing from our analytics.

“A sobering look at global online traffic” – Jason Mander

This session posed the question: Are there actually a billion people on the web leaving no footprint because of using VPNs and the like?

My obvious first response to this idea was, I bet there are, and I bet they are all reading my stuff. RIGHT THIS SECOND.

More seriously, VPNs, shared devices and more might be causing a massive problem with the way we measure the web. As Jason Mander explained, the US now contributes only 10% of global internet users, but pretty much always shows up as the #1 originating country for users of massive global websites.

Global Web Index, where Jason works, contend that many of those users are outside the US – but that you just can’t measure them. They run the world’s largest survey of internet users – and claim it effectively represents 90% of the global internet market.

It turns up some lovely bite-sized facts:

  • 40% of people in Vietnam say they share an internet-connected device
  • A third of online users in Indonesia have only ever connected to the internet via a mobile device.

And Jason suggested that privacy-savvy consumers are taking control of their internet connection.

  • 40% of users say they deleted their cookies in the last month.
  • Just about half of people have used an incognito window (and presumably the other half are either lying or never look at pr0n).
  • 27% of people say they use an Adblocker, directly stealing the food out of the mouths of my ad-supprted-media-funded children.

Jason said it should be obvious that something is up. In the US there are 9x as many IP addresses as there are internet users. At the other end of the scale, in emerging markets, there are often less IP addresses than people who say they are internet users.

Their theory is that a lot of people use US-based VPNs to connect to the web.

He showed how the figures might impact on one global site – Facebook.

54% of people who say they use a VPN in China also say that they use Facebook. If, Jason said, you look at “passively” collected analytics, the US is Facebook’s biggest region at 25.6% of usage, with India second. BUT, if you use their survey figures, the US drops to 15% of Facebook usage, and China rockets up to 13.4%.

Jason said that they see a similar effect on all major websites.

The chief reason people say they use a VPN? To get access to better entertainment and overcome geo-restrictions on playback rights.


The age of those using VPNs skews towards the under 35s, and slightly towards men. In countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey between 42% and 37% of the internet population say they regularly use VPNs or Proxies. In comparison, just 6% say they do in Japan, and European countries like the UK, France and Germany see rates around 15% to 12%.

“In our view,” Jason said, their figures “are correcting the VPN effect.”

Read all of my posts about Quartz’s “The Next Billion”:
What makes video go viral in emerging markets?” – Cat Jones
Providing free ad-supported mobile internet access for the next billion” – Nathan Eagle
Inspiring computer hardware for young people in the developing world” – Yonatan Raz-Fridman

Your next ride – Uber in emerging markets” – Jambu Palaniappan
The VPN effect and the web’s missing billion” – Jason Mander