SECTIONS

Searches on Google show people are scared, uncertain of their world

A young man checks a text message on his mobile phone. [Getty Images]

In the 11 years since I joined Google, I’ve seen a few periods of global uncertainty, including the increasing frequency of climate-related disasters, and a global pandemic. Each brought their own degree of uncertainty - and each time, we saw people turn to Google to seek out information to help them make decisions.

We are again seeing search trends that show people in Kenya are feeling unsure about the world around them. Fortunately, a lot has changed in the past 15 years that can help. In 2007, only 20 per cent of the world’s population had internet access. Today, 95 per cent of Europe and 60 per cent of the world are online: with all the information, skills and support that technology can provide.

Technology cannot solve all of the concern and anxiety that these trends show - but it can be used to help. Here are some trends we are seeing and how technology and business can and should intervene.

Covid and climate

As the Kenyan economy re-opens, it could be tempting to think the uncertainty of the pandemic is behind us. Search interest in coronavirus hit an all-time high worldwide in March 2020 - but it is far from leaving people’s concerns entirely, as searches have changed to reflect new phases of the pandemic.

In the last 90 days, searches for "covid symptoms and signs" increased by 350 per cent, while searches for "covid situation in Kenya" and "symptoms of covid-19" increased by 200 per cent. We will continue to provide accurate and timely information on everything from symptoms to vaccines as people strive to return to everyday life. Additionally, search trends show that apprehension about the climate crisis is growing where Kenya is the second African country searching most for greenwashing in the past 12 months.

The search terms "greenwashing meaning" increased by 40 per cent since this time last year. Greenwashing represents attempts by businesses to present their products and operations as environmentally friendly.

Businesses need to both help customers make small, meaningful changes and to walk the walk themselves, reducing emissions and cutting their footprint. Creating technology to help achieve this is a key part of our role. We want to help one billion people make more sustainable choices by the end of this year.

With more people using the internet to manage their daily lives than ever, it is no surprise that we are seeing more searches about cybersecurity and privacy. Kenya is one of the ten countries searching most for private browsing in the world in the past year. Searches interest in phishing reached the highest point of the last decade in June.

These trends show people feel uncertain about what lies ahead, but no matter where we head, I am hopeful that technology will form a part of the solution.

Writer is Head of Communications & Public Affairs, Google, Africa