Senior Citizens

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A senior citizen is a commonly used phrase in English to define older people within society. More specifically, it is often used to refer to a person who has retired or is around the age of 60[1]. These citizens face many problems in society, including ageism, the digital divide, somatic surveillance, and many cyber and financial crimes. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has made ordinary tasks increasingly difficult for senior citizens. These problems can lead to new forms of discrimination and more education is needed to make sure older people can thrive in the digital age. Senior citizens have been varyingly affected by the growing adoption of the internet and various new technologies.

The Digital Divide

As the world becomes more reliant on digital technology, the danger of the digital divide intensifies. The digital divide is defined as exclusion resulting from the gap between individuals with adequate access to digital and information technology as compared to those without access. From calling and texting to sending emails and joining video calls, staying connected through digital technology is an increasingly essential part of modern society. What happens when this cutting-edge technology serves its primary users but marginalizes the most vulnerable?


Ageism is the stereotyping or discrimination against individuals due to their age. According to a study, the determinants of ageism against senior citizens are influenced by personal, institutional, and cultural levels. [2] The study also concluded policymakers should prioritize anti-ageism efforts to undermine the assumption of negativity associated with age and the elderly. There is empirical evidence supporting the indirect exclusion of older people attributed to digital literacy in a digital space[2].

Digital Literacy

According to the American Library Association, digital literacy can be defined as: “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills”[3]. In a study aiming to measure digital literacy among older adults, researchers identified a need for instruments that aided older populations in understanding “digital content creation” and “safety”[4].

Senior Citizens v.s. Digital Literacy and Cyber Scams

The latest social media and communication platforms are not typically made with the intention of being used by older adults. Small text sizes, low contrasting colors, and advanced digital design make products inaccessible to those who are not digital natives. As the language of technology grows and the average user becomes more advanced, interfaces get more confusing to those who are less familiar as they become increasingly complex. Policies to overcome the digital divide and, more generally speaking, e-inclusion policies addressing the aging population raise some ethical problems. Among younger senior citizens, say those between 65 and 80 years old, the main issues are likely universal access to ICT and e-participation. [5]

Older Adults vs Targeted Cybercrimes from

The coronavirus pandemic made life significantly more difficult for aging adults. Since this population is among the most vulnerable, any physical human assistance is limited. Online grocery delivery set-up, remote doctor visits, and even virtual socialization have become essential to maintaining all adults' safety and wellness. However, those who cannot overcome this digital divide, generally senior citizens, get left behind. With health concerns added to the mix, utilizing digital activity becomes a vital lifestyle requirement. [6] The general senior population is marginalized from most online societies. During the pandemic, seniors are double burdened by exclusion on the digital and physical safety front. [7]

Cybercrimes and Phishing Scams

Cybercrimes towards older adults have quintupled over the last five years, racking up over $650 million in financial losses each year, based on an FBI statistic. Many of these crimes also go unreported since older adults often do not know how to react and respond to these attacks. While there are law enforcement solutions to protect cybercrime victims, older adults are often uneducated as far as how to go about receiving this assistance. [8]

Phishing is a significant threat to the older population of digital users. Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to elicit private information or data through impersonating someone else's identity. This is most common through emails, auction sites, and social networking platforms. For example, foreign emails about a Nigerian prince or a long-lost cousin target older users and attempt to take their money. Since older adults are less familiar with the digital world, they are significantly more vulnerable to phishing scams.

COVID-19 Related Phishing Scams/Suggestions

Throughout the pandemic, there have been many incidents of phishing, some particularly targeted at older generations. Researchers with IBM X-Force and Kaspersky found out that cybercriminals were spreading a popular malware strain through harmful, malicious emails related to the coronavirus outbreak[9]. The particular strain that was noted in Japan, called the Emotet trojan, was unfortunately very effective in attacking governments and financial institutions[9]. The hackers imitated a disability welfare service provider in Japan in attempt to steal confidential information from innocent individuals. The email itself urged recipients to read a Microsoft Word document that allegedly had reports of coronavirus patients within it, where the document contained the Emotet trojan[9]. One reason in which this type of message is particularly dangerous is that they were designed to look like official government emails, with accurate information such as addresses, phone numbers, and emails within it[9]. In addition, Kaspersky and Sophos found phishing emails pretending to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in attempts to steal information in regards to email credentials among other confidential information[10]. To successfully attack, researchers discovered that the phishing emails came from the email “” instead of the true CDC domain which is[10]. These hackers were taking advantage of people with genuine fears about the pandemic throughout their malicious attacks.

The CDC has noted harmful phone scams and phishing attacks related to the coronavirus pandemic[11]. To protect individuals, the CDC recommends being wary of answering phone calls from numbers that one does not recognize[11]. In addition, for phishing attacks the CDC recommends not opening unsolicited emails from unknown senders, being wary of third-party sources spreading pandemic information, hovering over links to see where they lead, not clicking links in emails, and being wary of attachments in any email[11]. It is important to beware of susceptible hackers. In addition, it is crucial to take a moment before sharing anything online, on social media, or through an email, because it always has the potential to become public[12]. And users must be cautious at large when using the internet.

What To Do

While the world can not simply teach every older adult how to be a tech-savvy internet surfer, organizations could develop better and more widely accessible informative materials for older adults' education and safety in the digital world. Users would also likely benefit from being more aware of cybercrimes that target older populations. There are many technology education resources for older adult users and best practices for smaller tasks such as password management. For example, it is much safer for older adults to keep several passwords written down on a piece of paper at their desk than to have the same password for each of their accounts. These practices, while seemingly nontrivial, could make the difference between safe digital activity and vulnerable digital activity. Some resources to help older adults understand how to use technology can be found here:

FBI Scam Reporting The FBI provided information outlining various examples of elder fraud, common fraud schemes, and ways to protect yourself or loved ones. Additionally, this resource links to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and allows for direct reporting of suspected fraud. [13] is a consumer advocacy organization that allows users to sign up for alerts on common scams and fraud schemes. There is also a section dedicated to filing complaints about fraudulent experiences. [14]
AARP The AARP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans over the age of 50. This resource provides access to technology training classes and insight into the value of tech training for older adults. [15] uses its board of senior care and safety experts to curate over 2,500 guides and articles, review alert systems for over 75,000 readers. This link, in particular, provides information on quality internet service providers for seniors, virtual retirement communities, senior tech products, and fraud prevention techniques. [16]

Inaccessible Platforms

The magnifying glass being utilized in various operating systems (Google Chrome, Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word) [17]

Every update and rebrand that a technology company publishes attempts to make their user experience more efficient and convenient for the primary user. Unnecessary words are removed. A “search” button is replaced with a magnifying glass icon. With these ‘sleek’ updates, older adults become more confused. Don Norman explains, “Current interaction designs often feature illegible text, tiny targets, startling sounds, and other features that make the online world unfriendly to older users.” [18] Based on his research, he states things like small, lightly colored text on mobile interfaces and interactive elements such as dropdown items are challenging for this demographic. Other common conventions such as hyperlinks, copying/pasting, and pop-up windows can elicit frustration to older internet users. Forms that time out after too long also make it difficult for older adults to use. This demographic spends much more time analyzing each page in a digital interface before understanding what they are viewing. Many older adults suffer from memory loss. Remembering passwords, usernames, and other sensitive information is not an easy task. And since they are unfamiliar with the internet, time is also a major factor in their activity. Older adults consume visual media differently than younger digital natives do. Design patterns and visual cues are just not universal across these two groups.

Amazon advertisement for monitoring systems for elderly from

Somatic Surveillance

Modern information technology has also increased the possibilities for supervision and surveillance of senior citizens. Examples already meriting researchers' attention include behavioral pattern monitoring systems, in which behavior patterns of elderly subjects are monitored and any changes detected are reported to caregivers. [19] Research to analyze changes in behavioral patterns over time to provide early warning of age-related diseases (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s) is already being undertaken. Experts foresee that, within a decade, software efficient enough to spot early Parkinson’s symptoms will be commercially available. Relevant supervision technologies in welfare services include sensors in exit doors warning about undesired movement and electronic tags for localization of the elderly. Sensitive data produced by ICT services may represent an invaluable source of information for many companies' marketing departments and could be covertly generated, stored, and commercialized.

Moreover, ancillary information generated by the system can discriminate against certain ethnic groups and other minority groups. [20] Some technologies are particularly suited for generating shadow data (e.g., age, gender, skin color, style in clothes, etc.), which could be used for illicit ethnic or religious classification. Somatic surveillance is a concern in the medical domain. Increasingly, consumerist strategies promise ‘‘eternal youth’’ by manipulating the body through bio, info, and nanotechnologies. [21] As a result, senior citizens' bodies are invaded by microtechnologies, reconstructed as nodes in vast information networks, and controlled through automated responses or network commands. [22] This trend requires ethical reflections on the concept of respect for bodily and mental integrity in advanced ages. An important ethical tenet is that sensitive data should not be required in return for essential services unless the information is necessary to execute those services properly. This could benefit the elderly as they would be less likely to input their sensitive data in a suspicious website if they are not typically used to needing to do so.

Senior citizens and cashless systems

financial exclusion statistics among seniors [23]

Ageism and financial exclusion can often come together to prevent senior citizens from using cashless systems. As cashless systems become more popular and sometimes even required, senior citizens might not be able to use or access such cashless systems in their entirety. Banking institutions may allow access to such systems in every way, but they often do not do enough to educate and accommodate older citizens about using these systems effectively and safely.

While cashless systems faced many hurdles in the past, with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have started to adopt cashless systems, and legislation has become more lenient [24]. This was only furthered by the national coin shortage in the United States [25]. Due to the widespread adoption of such digital systems and the impacts of the digital divide on the elderly, senior citizens' finantial exclusion has increased [26]. Senior citizens are generally confused by cashless systems, and this is mostly centered around the numerous potential avenues for completing such a purchase [27]. Because many mobile wallets are targeted at younger customers, digital literacy and design choices can significantly impact how senior citizens can interact with and understand such cashless payment systems. Moreover, senior citizens may not even have a credit card: a primary form for which cashless payments are executed [28].

Additionally, many senior citizens do not use the internet. Therefore, online payment systems are often inaccessible for many [29]. A lack of internet access can be for many reasons, some of which include location, poverty, and education. Singapore started to educate senior citizens on navigating a digital age through special programs called Silver Infocomm Junctions. These programs are designed to teach seniors how to make electronic payments safely and significantly facilitate the change to a cashless society. Moreover, cyber crimes can play a role here, and infrastructure to support cashless systems must take cyber crimes against the elderly into account [30].

Senior Citizens and COVID-19

A recent obstacle that has arisen concerning seniors and digital literacy surrounds COVID-19. At the onset of the pandemic, many people relied on grocery delivery services to avoid going in public. This way of ordering groceries is most commonly done online. Seniors were among the group most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, so leaving the house to grocery shop was a fear for many; however, navigating the grocery store websites proved to be a difficulty for many [31]. When testing sites became more widely available, a lot of the information regarding testing times and pop-up vaccination sites could be found on the internet. As previously mentioned, there is a digital literacy that many seniors lack, and so this was difficult for seniors to get information about the testing sites. Seniors were among the first group eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine, yet many struggled to sign up for the vaccine due to trouble navigating the website [32]. While there were options to call local health departments, wait times often exceeded many hours, making seniors wait on hold [33]. Since seniors were among the first eligible, getting an appointment slot was not the only barrier to getting the vaccines, but the inaccessibility of physically being able to make the appointment was the barrier. In the United States, seniors 65+ are all eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but only 71% of seniors have received it [34]. While this could have to do with a slower than expected vaccine rollout, it also could likely be attributed to the difficulty many seniors face surrounding accessing resources and information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evolution Over Time

While many older adults are still unable to send a text message on their own, this population of digitally literate users is shrinking. In the last 18 years, older adults have become slightly more technologically proficient due to the digital world's age. There is a promise that foundational blockers that challenge older adults, such as basic emailing concepts, will phase out as the older population becomes more familiar with the internet's dawn. But since technology expands and matures at an exponential rate, it is clear there will always be new updates to digital proficiency that favor younger users and change too quickly for older users to keep up. [35]

How can technologies support older adults and allow them to stay connected to a world that is rapidly expanding online? Designers of technology make platforms accessible to older adults who need them. It is a requirement for interfaces essential for digital navigation- such as emails, Facebook, grocery ordering, hospital appointment booking- to be accessible to those who suffer from poor vision, hearing, or memory retention. Seniors are a vulnerable population in the digital world. They need proper education and protection for digital devices that have become so crucial to the modern world. [36]


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