Trust is key to the growth of e-commerce, but as with most areas of business, trust comes with time. People in OECD countries are slowly getting used to the concept of doing business electronically, whether it be to shop on the Internet or to take care of their own banking. Even in France, where buying airline tickets and making theatre reservations online has been fairly widespread for several years, thanks to the relatively secure, but technically limited Minitel, the use of the Internet for e-business has finally begun to pick up. One important reason for this change is the growth of secure servers.
Between August 1998 and August 1999 the total number of secure servers in OECD countries grew by 109%. If ever there was an illustration needed of what is meant by the digital divide, the distribution of secure servers provides it, since the 46,000 secure servers in the OECD area in August 1999 represented 95% of the global total. More-over, by July 1999 there were more than 52 million Internet hosts in the OECD area, representing 93% of the global total. Between 1997 and 1999 the OECD total grew by 47%.
Most of the world’s secure servers are in the United States: 34,000 in August 1999, which is twice as many as a year earlier. On a per capita basis, the highest use of secure servers for electronic commerce is also the United States, followed by Australia and Canada, which has more secure servers than any country in Europe. Only 15% of the total number of secure servers were in the European Union. As for Japan and Korea, secure servers are growing there too, albeit from a relatively small base. The number of secure servers grew by 129% in Japan and by 188% in Korea over the twelve months to August 1999.
An additional point is that a huge majority of the world’s websites (86%) appear to have a US origin. However, Finland was the first country in the OECD area to pass 100 hosts per 1,000 inhabitants in 1998. By July 1999 Finland had 123 hosts per 1,000 inhabitants, with the United States a close second with 119 per 1,000. The next closest countries were Iceland, Sweden, Canada and Norway. Such is the strength of growth in electronic commerce in the United States that Finland’s traditional lead in Internet hosts per capita is likely to be overtaken soon.
©OECD Observer No 219, December 1999