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Internet usage has become an essential part of daily life for people all over the world. With the help of the internet and technology, we are able to stay connected regardless of distance and location. It also improves the way we get information, communicate with each other and entertain ourselves. The internet has opened a world of possibilities, making it a necessary tool that impacts the way of life in all parts of society. In fact, 2021 data from the World Bank shows that around 72% of the population in the Asia-Pacific region uses the internet.

In January 2023, an annual report by a socially driven creative agency, We Are Social, and Meltwater, which provides an overview of worldwide social media usage and digital trends, revealed that the Philippines has 85.2 million internet users. The average time that Filipinos spend online across all devices is 9 hours and 15 minutes per day.

In Singapore, there are around 5.81 million internet users who spend an average of 7 hours per day online. This figure is 22 minutes longer than the global average of 6 hours and 37 minutes. Singapore's high Internet and social media adoption has resulted in a robust and healthy online community, with users actively engaging with various forms of content and spending significant time on video-based social media apps. The trend is projected to continue, propelling Singapore to the forefront of digital engagement.

However, a recent study by Veritas Technologies, titled "In the Cloud, Out of Mind," reveals that a considerable portion of Generation Z in Singapore and around the world have unused online accounts. Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of knowledge about the environmental effects of storing unnecessary data online.

Recently, Veritas Technologies conducted a survey of 13,000 consumers globally, providing information on the incidence of unused online accounts among Generation Z users. According to the report, 62% of Generation Z consumers in Singapore, 47% in Australia and 60% around the world have inactive online profiles. The finding is concerning because the accumulation of unneeded or unused data adds to the strain on data centers, which are currently mostly powered by fossil fuels, resulting in a significant carbon footprint.

Over half of those polled were unaware of the environmental impact of storing electronic versions of account-related statements and documents online. Despite this lack of awareness, a sizable number of respondents — 45% in Singapore alone — voiced their displeasure with firms wasting energy and polluting the environment by holding needless information online.

Andy Ng, vice president and managing director of the Southeast Asia and Pacific Region at Veritas Technologies, notes, “In fact, data centres account for 2% of all global carbon emissions. While Generation Z is arguably deemed to be the most environmentally conscious generation, they are also, knowingly or not, leading the way among consumers in creating the most carbon emissions from unnecessary or unwanted data.”

The study delves further into the various types of unused accounts held by Generation Z respondents. According to the statistics, a sizable majority — over 80% globally and in Singapore — have unused entertainment and shopping accounts. Furthermore, more than half, or 53%, of Singaporeans have abandoned pay or work-related accounts. Nearly half of Singapore's Generation Z have unused accounts with their internet service provider (45%) and online banks (44%). One notable finding is that 62% of the total respondents have unused healthcare accounts.

Mr. Ng highlights the importance of enterprises in encouraging open data management methods and lowering data-related emissions. However, it is also the responsibility of customers, particularly younger generations, to take a more environmentally sensitive approach to their online lives and digital footprints. Without a shift in behavior, the buildup of unneeded data will compound our planet's sustainability concerns.

While users and consumers have options to delete unused accounts, some don’t bother with it for a variety of reasons, including a lack of personal relevance. Others also believe that they might still need it in the future. This emphasizes the need for improved environmental consciousness among Generation Z as well as the significance of actively regulating their internet presence.

Aside from environmental threats, unused or dormant online accounts could also pose security risks to individuals and organizations. Just this May, Google announced updates to its policies regarding account inactivity. The company's policies will be modified to allow it to delete old, unused accounts that haven't been logged into for around two years.

An internal analysis by Google showed that abandoned accounts are at least 10 times less likely than active accounts to have 2-step verification enabled. This means that these accounts are frequently vulnerable, and if stolen, they can be used for anything from identity theft to acting as a channel for undesirable or even criminal information, such as spam.

The concerning increase in unused online accounts among Generation Z customers not only leads to excessive data storage but also has serious environmental consequences due to the reliance on fossil fuel-powered data centers. Such neglect also increases vulnerability to other risks that might arise in the future. In all cases, knowledge is key. And the more such harmful environmental outcomes are highlighted, the more these unused accounts will be addressed accordingly.

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