1.2 Living online: what the internet is used for


Online phone and video calls on the rise in the EU

Taking a closer look at what internet users in the EU do when they are online shows that the most common activities in 2017 were sending and receiving e-mails (86 % of people who had used the internet during the last 3 months), finding information (78 %), reading online news (72 %) and participating in social networks (65 %).

Over the last six years, a range of online activities gained in popularity: the share of internet users making phone or video calls via the internet increased from 29 % in 2011 to 46 % in 2017, as did the share of those using social networks, from 53 % to 65 %.

Online behaviour of internet users differs between EU Member States: in 2017, making online telephone and video calls was most popular among internet users in Bulgaria (85 %), while participating in social networks was most common in Malta (87 %) and Hungary (84 %). The Netherlands and Finland (both 93 %) as well as Denmark (92 %) had the highest shares of internet users who used internet banking and Lithuania (93 %), Czechia and Croatia (both 91 %) of those who read news online.

internet activities

90 % of younger EU internet users participate in social networks

Age is an important factor determining differences in the use of the internet. Among younger users aged 16 to 24 years in the EU some of the most popular online activities included participating in social networks (90 % in 2017), watching videos from commercial or sharing services such as YouTube or Netflix (83 % in 2016) and listening to music (80 % in 2016). On the other hand, for older users aged 65 to 74 years, reading the news (65 %) and seeking health information (59 %) were among the most popular online activities in 2017.

In 2017, the share of younger internet users who were active on social networks ranged from 78 % in France and 84 % in Italy to 99 % in Croatia and 98 % in Denmark and Hungary, while among older internet users this share was below 60 % in almost all EU Member States, except for Belgium (60 %) and Malta (71 %).


In 2017 8 out of 10 internet users in the EU searched online for information about goods or services. As a response, businesses are increasing their internet presence, for example by having a website, using social media or targeted advertising.

26 % of EU businesses with a website offer online ordering or booking

In the EU, 79 % of businesses with internet access had their own website in 2017, compared with 71 % in 2010. Among the EU Member States, this share was highest in Finland (96 %), Denmark (95 %) and Sweden (92 %).

Looking in more detail, the share of businesses with their own website is linked to the size of businesses: almost all large businesses (94 %) in the EU had a website in 2017 compared with 79 % of SMEs. Internet presence, measured by the share of businesses with their own website, is also linked to the economic sector in which a business operates: almost all businesses in the accommodation sector (96 %) had a website compared with 65 % of businesses whose main activity was in transportation & storage.

Businesses use their website to provide different information and functionalities to their customers or business partners. Most commonly, those businesses which had a website in 2017 provided product catalogues or price lists (73 %), while 26 % offered online ordering, reservation or booking options , and 11 % had website functionalities that provided for online tracking of orders.

Social networks: the most widely used social media of EU businesses

social media use

In addition to websites, businesses can use social media channels to spread information or for marketing/promotional purposes. Almost half of all EU businesses with internet access (49 %) reported in 2017 that they used at least one social media channel: most common were social networks (such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Xing) that were used by 46 % of businesses with internet access, followed by multimedia content sharing websites (such as YouTube, Flickr or Picasa) which were used by 16 % and blog or microblogs (such as Twitter) used by 15 %.

Among the EU Member States, the highest share of businesses with internet access which use social networks were recorded in Malta (76 %), while the largest share for multimedia content-sharing websites was registered in the Netherlands (29 %) and for blogs or microblogs in the United Kingdom (44 %).

There are a variety of reasons why businesses in the EU may choose to use social media: the most popular uses included developing the image of their business or marketing their products (84 % of businesses which used at least one social media channel in 2017), obtaining or responding to customers' opinions or answering their questions (56 %) and recruiting employees (49 %).

Reaching the right audience: 26 % of EU businesses use internet ads

Especially for the online marketing of goods and services, just over one quarter (26 %) of EU businesses with internet access reported in 2016 that they used the internet for targeted advertising. Among the EU Member States, internet advertising was most popular in Malta (47 % of businesses with internet access), followed by Sweden (42 %) and Denmark (40 %).

A closer look at the types of internet advertising used by businesses shows that contextual advertising was the most widespread form (78 % of EU businesses which advertised online in 2016). Less common forms of internet advertising included geo-targeted advertisements (30 %), behavioural targeting (27 %) and other methods (35 %).