Surprised and Confused Adult Man Looking At Smartphone

Surprised and Confused Adult Man Looking At Smartphone (© Prostock-studio -

LONDON — Do you understand the difference between “phishing” and “malware”? What about “smishing” and “vishing”? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. One out of every six older adults admits they are entirely baffled by the next generation of digital terms.

A survey of 2,000 individuals over 65 revealed that terms like “hyperlinks,” “phishing,” and “The Cloud” often confound them. “Processor,” “malware,” and “USB-C” also ranked among the top 20 most confusing terms. Additionally, “cookies,” “IP addresses,” and “smishing” (the practice of sending texts while pretending to be from reputable companies in order to steal personal information) were prominent on this list.

Interestingly, 11 percent of respondents believed that digital terminology is so intricate that it would be simpler to learn a foreign language. To assist the older generation in understanding online jargon, the company commissioning this poll, BT Group, collaborated with AbilityNet to develop a Digital Dictionary that explains the 21 most frequently misunderstood internet terms.

“While many aspects of modern life seem more straightforward online—be it scheduling a doctor’s visit, handling finances, or grocery shopping—it’s crucial to recognize that this ease is contingent upon understanding the language of the web,” says lexicographer and spokesperson Susie Dent in a statement.

Scroll down to see the top 30 online terms older adults don’t understand

Happy aged women in eyeglasses looking at screen of smartphone
1 in 2 videos about older adults on TikTok portray them negatively. (credit: Photo by Anna Shvets)

The same survey finds that individuals over 65 spend an average of just five and a half hours online weekly. A staggering 78 percent feel they’re lagging due to their limited digital knowledge. Over half (54%) wish they were more tech-savvy, yet 17 percent lack the motivation to learn. Some respondents feel overwhelmed by the volume of information, while others wish for someone to guide them. Alarmingly, 16 percent hesitate to seek help, fearing they might be viewed as a burden.

For many, the predominant emotion associated with online jargon is frustration, though some describe feelings of embarrassment or inadequacy.

Regarding the benefits of the online world, one in three appreciate the easy access to information, 17 percent enjoy the convenience, and 15 percent value staying connected with loved ones. However, the digital realm isn’t without its drawbacks. A third of respondents expressed their primary concern about online scams, while 14 percent were worried about privacy. Additionally, 10 percent emphasized that not all information found online is trustworthy, as per the data from OnePoll.

“As younger people grow up immersed in the digital environment, it becomes increasingly challenging for the older generation to grasp the evolving online lexicon. For those who didn’t grow up with smartphones or high-speed internet, this digital age might seem foreign and intimidating. It’s disheartening to learn that many senior citizens feel they’re imposing when seeking assistance online,” says Victoria Johnson, another spokesperson. “Our goal is to foster an inclusive society where everyone, regardless of age, can fully participate in our digital world.”

Digital Jargon Many Older Adults Don’t Understand:

  1. Smishing
  2. Vishing
  3. Hyperlink
  4. USB-C
  5. Ransomware
  6. URL
  7. Phishing
  8. QR code
  9. Cloud
  10. Malware
  11. IP address
  12. Cookies
  13. Streaming
  14. Tabs
  15. Processor
  16. Spam
  17. Antivirus
  18. Hardware
  19. Browser
  20. Upload
  21. USB
  22. Social media
  23. Emoji
  24. Webpage
  25. App
  26. Google
  27. Download
  28. Search Engine
  29. Software
  30. Smartphone

72Point writer Richard Jenkins contributed to this report.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor