Britons now spend an hour longer a day online than the Germans or French, Ofcom research has revealed, showing that the British are the biggest internet addicts in Europe.
Figures compiled by the media regulator showed for the first time that people in the UK are online for an average of three and a half hours a day, compared to just over two for those in the other two European countries.
However, the new report also showed that almost two thirds of underage children are now using social media apps, despite them having a minimum age of 13.
The findings come as part of Ofcom’s latest Online Nation report, which monitors the UK’s online habits.
The research found there had been steady growth in online activity over the last year as the pandemic and lockdowns confined people indoors.
The average amount of time adults spent online every day last year increased to three hours and 37 minutes, up from three hours 28 minutes in 2019 and two hours 57 minutes in 2017.
Meanwhile, people in Germany spent two hours and 20 minutes a day online last year, the French two hours and 20 minutes and the Spanish three hours and six minutes.
Globally, the UK was topped in its online addiction only by Canada, where adults spend on average three hours and 46 minutes online, and the US, with four hours and 38 minutes.
Dating and video-sharing top mobile app charts
Ofcom found that Britons are now spending £2.45 billion on online mobile apps, with the dating app Tinder and video platforms YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ earning the most.
However, Ofcom found that British children are also increasingly spending more of their time online, even in apps for which they are too young. It revealed that 59 percent of under-13s have used social media apps they are meant to be banned from.
Ofcom also found that figure rose to 95 percent by the age of 15, with 66 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds using Instagram, 58 percent Snapchat and 54 percent Facebook. The findings came from interviews with more than 2,000 parents and children.
The results come as the Government is drawing up legislation to impose a legal duty of care on tech companies to better protect children online, a measure for which The Telegraph has campaigned.
The proposals could see Ofcom armed with powers to fine tech giants billions and even ban them from the UK if they fail to stop underage children using their apps.
Following the report, Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research, said: "In an unprecedented year, we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services – which, for many people, have provided a lifeline in lockdown.
"This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety."