This past week, Mary Meeker presented her annual Internet Trends report for 2018 at the Code Conference.  A copy of the slide deck is available here.  The report is widely respected by industry experts, and this year’s presentation included a number of insights that industry stakeholders will find relevant regarding data privacy and technology more broadly.

One of Meeker’s key insights in her report was what she termed the privacy paradox.  Technology companies are increasingly using consumer data to provide consumers with better experiences and lower prices.  However, by collecting more consumer data those same companies need to work to avoid betraying consumers’ trust or running afoul of consumer data protection laws.

Consumers see a real value in technology products, as Meeker highlighted the increasing amount of time people spend online.  U.S. adults spent an average of 5.9 hours per day with digital media in 2017, which was an increase from the 5.6 hours per day in 2016.  Of those 5.9 hours, approximately 3.3 of them were from mobile devices, 2.1 were from desktops or laptops, and 0.6 from other connected devices.

A notable contrast, however, was the fact that 2017 saw no growth in global new smartphone unit shipments.  Meeker suggested that because the total number of worldwide internet users, now 3.6 billion, has surpassed half of Earth’s population, growth in the smartphone market has become more difficult.  But she also noted that smartphone price points appear to be diverging, as there continue to be high-end smartphones that cost near $1,000, but lower-cost smartphones are gaining traction in the world’s lesser-developed markets.

Meeker also highlighted the geographic trends in the privacy and technology sectors.  One of Meeker’s slides showed the 20 most valuable internet companies around the globe, all of which are based in either the United States (11) or China (9).  Companies may see further growth in China, as Chinese consumers appear to be highly willing to trade their personal data for product benefits.  Notably missing from the top 20 was Europe, and Meeker suggested that region’s regulations of data-driven technology companies could be a contributing factor, such as the recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Although “it’s crucial to manage for unintended consequences” both through technology companies making smart decisions and regulators enacting appropriate safeguards, Meeker also suggested that “it’s irresponsible to stop innovation and progress” through too much regulation.

In the United States, specifically, technology companies are becoming a larger part of the business landscape.  In the first quarter of 2018, technology companies constituted 25% of market capitalization.  Further, six of the top 15 public companies in research and development spending and capital expenditures were technology companies.  The technology sector was the largest and fastest growing industry in terms of contribution to research and development in the U.S. economy, and Meeker believes it is likely to continue that growth trend.