Participating in and Shaping Digitalization

The United Internet Group’s business model is built on access to communication, information, and entertainment. Thanks to the frequencies bought at auction by 1&1 Drillisch AG in summer 2019, we are able to take the next step and establish our own high-performance 5G infrastructure.

Following the successful 5G auction, 1&1 Drillisch AG and the established network operators signed an agreement with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) to build mobile phone base stations in “white spaces.” By doing so, the company will help close gaps in coverage in rural areas in particular: constructing large number of masts will contribute to improving mobile phone reception in these regions. In return, 1&1 Drillisch can transfer the license fees payable for the frequencies to the federal government in installments until 2030. This step illustrates the benefits of cooperation for both consumers and network operators.

What is more, the Consumer Access Segment enables a wide range of customers to participate in the process of digitalization thanks to 1&1 Drillisch AG’s broad portfolio, which covers everything from premium to discount tariffs. Additionally, the Consumer Applications Segment with the GMX and WEB.DE portals’ freemail variants offer free e-mail and cloud services, plus associated product innovations such as our intelligent mailbox function, the netID log-in standard, or the advance letter mail notification introduced in 2020 in cooperation with Deutsche Post AG. Registered users can use this free e-mail service to be alerted to incoming letter mail. All these measures are ways of implementing digital participation. Today, the availability of affordable internet access options is seen as being vital for achieving economic and social development, and even for exercising human rights.(1)

(1) See e.g., the Bitkom article (German only) dated November 24, 2019.

Free Access to News

The Company’s GMX, WEB.DE, and 1&1 portals offer users not only e-mail and cloud services but also unrestricted access to content from their own, independent editorial team. 12% each of German internet users use GMX and WEB.DE as a source of news on a weekly basis, while 8% each use the two freemail portals to obtain information at least three times a week. This is documented in the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020. In addition, the German-language MedienVielfaltsMonitor for the first half of 2020 puts GMX and WEB.DE among the top 15 media in the German opinion market. More specifically, GMX and WEB.DE came third and first in the “online opinion market” category. The two portals therefore contribute significantly to social discourse.

In order to do justice to the responsibility that this entails, we have established clear guidelines for ourselves that are set out in an editorial mission statement. Among other things, we want to offer content that is relevant for users, as well as always complying with strict data privacy standards and aiming to provide rapid and above all correct reporting in acute news situations. If errors occur nevertheless, we correct them transparently in line with a clear set of rules by drawing readers’ attention to the corrections beneath the article.

In addition, the editorial team uses a wide range of mechanisms to ensure transparency for users about our sources. We regularly invite readers to visit our editorial officers, allowing us to stay close to our users and to learn from them personally what they expect from us.

We have abided voluntarily by the rules set out by the German Press Council (German only) for many years, and went a step further in 2019 by officially undertaking to comply with the German Press Code. Apart from the classic media brands, our portals were the first major pure-play online media in Germany to take this step.

Fake News – or Just an Error?

The term “fake news” is becoming more and more common in criticism of the media. However, not every error made by the news media falls within this category. Rather, this term refers to deliberately false or bogus reports that are circulated in order to manipulate readers. In addition, it is used sometimes as a political catchphrase for unconscious errors made by news media, which is why correcting these is highly important in journalism. GMX, WEB.DE, and 1&1 therefore put special emphasis on ensuring that corrections are made transparently.

The news services are not limited to the German market, but are also to be found on the GMX brand’s localized national portals in the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. Strict rules apply to partner adverts in order to protect customers from misleading advertising or offerings from the tobacco industry, for example.

Association Work and Cooperative Ventures

  • GRI 102-12
  • GRI 102-13

United Internet lives up to its responsibility to help develop the digital economy. For example, many employees contribute their time free of charge during working hours to a variety of European and national associations, joint industry committees (JICs), and foundations in order to help shape the future, ensure transparency, and create standards that benefit users.

Equally, since network security does not stop at the walls of our own data centers, United Internet is active in a number of associations such as Bitkom and the Alliance for Cyber Security founded by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Its goals here are to promote both increasing digitalization and the development of new security standards. In addition, we share the results of our information security research within industry associations, or make them publicly available.

The Group also supports the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe and the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW), for example. Among other things, the members of these two digital associations are developing the framework for technology that will enable pages to load more rapidly and enhance the user experience. This also involves defining concepts and uniform processes so as to enable members to work more efficiently together. In addition, political and social frameworks are being developed – e.g., in the area of data privacy.

Equally, United Internet Group employees are contributing their working time, experience, and commitment to the German Digital Dialog Marketing Association (DDV) so as to support the sector and shape the market to benefit users. One example of the work that the committees perform is to agree on e-mail marketing measures designed to make spamming even harder.

Our employees also work in JICs such as agof, the German Association for Online Research. These JICs measure neutral performance criteria such as the reach of various internet offerings, providing the market with a “currency.” In turn, this data makes it easier for website operators to obtain advertising finance, as a result of which more money is invested and users can be offered a better service.

Last but not least, United Internet employees support the work of the European netID Foundation via the foundation board and the advisory boards. This independent foundation is responsible for the netID log-in standard (see above) and is continuing to develop it together with the sector.

Basic Research

United Internet Media – a Group subsidiary and the exclusive media marketer for United Internet’s portal brands – regularly conducts research on basic topics that are of relevance to the sector. By doing so, it not only performs an educational function, but also provides the marketing sector with key data permanently and free of charge. Once a year, United Internet Media conducts the Digital Dialog Insights study together with the Stuttgart-based Hochschule der Medien (HdM); in 2020, this addressed the post-cookie era, artificial intelligence, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital marketing. The study showed that cookie blocking and the COVID-19 pandemic are leaving significant marks on digital marketing. Experts consider the digital marketing sector to be ill-equipped for the post-cookie era. Companies are badly prepared and do not have the necessary expertise, according to one core finding of the “Digital Dialog Insights” survey. However, the experts also say there is no way back to traditional marketing channels and are in favor of using alternative infrastructures and technologies instead. As in the previous year, AI is considered to be highly important. In the experts’ opinion, it can be used to deliver additional customer benefits in the form of customized and personalized offerings.

In a second study, United Internet Media examined the use of brand logos and seals of quality in e-mail postboxes. trustedDialog – the overarching quality standard that is used at GMX, WEB.DE, and 1&1, as well as at T-Online and freenet, for example – has a positive impact on the sender's brand image and also mobilizes more users. In an experiment designed to analyze brand potential, news items from three imaginary brands were displayed to a user group with a seal of approval and brand logo for the sender, and a control group without them. The results of the follow-up survey were clear: the trustedDialog seal has a positive effect, especially on perceptions of the sender’s or advertising brand’s security and trustworthiness. In addition, customers were more willing to interact with the brand.

Marketers can use the results of this basic research by United Internet Media to respond better to current challenges, make more focused investments in technology such as AI, and improve their e-mail dialogs with customers. Users also benefit from this by receiving relevant information, content, and advertising messages.