Germans show little interest in digital signatures

German Internet users have shown little interest in using digital signatures so far, according to a study published on Thursday by the market research group Fittkau & Maass GmbH. The study comes on the heels of an announcement by the German government of an initiative to promote electronic verification technology in the public sector.

Only 5.8 per cent of the 94,000 Internet users surveyed say they use the technology, according to Fittkau & Maass, which is located in Hamburg, Germany. More than 80 Internet service providers (ISPs) with over 200 Web sites participated in the survey.

“We see two primary reasons for the limited interest in digital signatures,” said a spokesman for Fittkau & Maass. “People are generally not well informed about this technology, and they are concerned about the cost of using it.”

Digital signatures, or certificates, could allow people to use the Internet to sign up for bank accounts, pay taxes and more, all without paper.

Aware that consumers in Germany have been relatively slow to adopt digital signatures, the German Ministry of the Interior announced on Wednesday an initiative to promote the technology. Under the “Alliance for Digital Signatures ” initiative, the German federal government will support digital signatures for the majority of its 350 online services.

In a written statement, Brigitte Zypries, secretary of state at the Ministry of the Interior, said the market for digital signature services “needs a powerful push,” which she believes can be achieved through a close cooperation between the public and private sectors. The government, she said, is considering ways to support, in particular, suppliers of digital signature chip cards.

Zypries also called for intensified efforts to coordinate digital signature standards at the national and international levels.

In January 2002, the federal government approved the widescale use of digital signatures in public administration.