Attitudes to privacy — survey results launched


Attitudes to privacy — survey results launched

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has just launched the 2013 Community Attitudes to Privacy survey results. Social media posed one of the biggest privacy risks and, in this context, the impact of social media on employment situations is relevant.


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The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has just launched the 2013 Community Attitudes to Privacy survey results. Social media posed one of the biggest privacy risks and, in this context, the impact of social media on employment situations is relevant.

The survey is a longitudinal survey of privacy attitudes and awareness in the Australian community. The results were discussed by a panel of privacy experts, including the Australian Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner, followed by questions from audience members and the media.
The survey report is available on the OAIC website, and the de-identified raw data will be made available on shortly.

Summary of key findings
The 2013 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) Community Attitudes to Privacy study aims to measure Australians’ changing awareness and opinions about privacy, as well as their expectations in relation to the handling of their personal information. The study also seeks views on a range of privacy issues, such as online privacy, credit reporting and privacy in the workplace.

The study has been conducted since 1990 and was last undertaken in 2007. This study and all previous studies were conducted by telephone.

The findings — biggest privacy risks

In the context of talking about personal information, Australians believe the biggest privacy risks facing people are online services — including social media sites. Almost one-half of the population (48%) mentioned these risks spontaneously. A quarter (23%) felt that the risk of ID fraud and theft was the biggest, followed by data security (16%) and the risks to financial data in general (11%). Young Australians were most concerned about personal information and online services, with six in ten (60%) mentioning this as a privacy risk. There were other concerns, but none of the others were mentioned as a major risk by more than one in ten Australians.

Awareness of privacy laws

Another trend that has no doubt served to underpin increasing caution among Australians is the increasing proportion of the population that is aware of Federal privacy laws (82% versus 69% in 2007). Presumably, the public is also aware of other consumer protection laws, given the increased proportion of the community that has made a complaint about misuse of their personal information to a number of different ombudsmen, including the OAIC. A worrying finding is that while people now seem to have a better understanding of how ombudsmen schemes operate, a quarter (27%) does not know who to report their problems to — a significant increase on the situation six years ago (20%).

Use of personal information

The use of personal information such as revealing one customer’s data to another customer (97%), information being used for a purpose other than the reason for which it was given (97%), and being contacted by an unfamiliar organisation (96%) is considered almost universally to be inappropriate. Related to this, the backlash against unsolicited marketing activity is gaining pace, with the majority feeling annoyed (56%) with the contact or concerned about how their details were obtained by the organisation contacting them (39%). In 2013, just under a half (45%) were annoyed by this activity versus just over a quarter (27%) in 2007. Australians were less likely to feel it was ‘a bit annoying, but mostly harmless’ (11% in 2013 versus 23% in 2007).

The majority of Australians do not like their personal information being sent offshore. Eight in ten (79%) believe this to be a misuse of their personal information and nine in ten (90%) have concerns about the practice.

Monitoring activities on internet

Australians are not keen on having their activities monitored covertly on the internet (78% are uncomfortable with this practice) and having sales and marketing approaches made to them based on their actions (69% are uncomfortable). However, they prefer this activity to the idea of having information on their behaviour stored in databases to be used to target offers at them (77% are uncomfortable).

Collection of information

The majority believes that most or all websites (59%) and smartphone apps (48%) collect information about the user and are uncomfortable with this practice. The result is that a growing number of people are taking pre-emptive measures to protect their information, from nine in ten (90%) refusing to provide personal information in some circumstances, to eight in ten (78%) checking the security of websites before entering personal data, to seven in ten (72%) clearing their internet browsing history, to six in ten (62%) opting not to use smartphone apps because of concerns about the way personal information would be used. Still, only three in ten falsify their name (30%) or details (32%) in order to protect themselves.

Social networking

The majority (60%) believes that social networking is mainly a public activity where information can be seen by many people. One in six (17%) has posted something onto a social networking site that they regret, rising to a third (33%) among young people.

In the face of these results, it might seem strange that a slight majority (51%) continues not to read online privacy policies. The reasons that these policies are not read are concerning — it is because they are considered to be too long (52%), complex (20%) or boring (9%). The large minority (37%) reading privacy policies are rewarded by gaining the information they need to decide whether or not to use the site.

Other matters

Other matters covered in the survey include trust that Australians have in the way that organisations handle their personal information, public expectation of high standards of transparency in data handling, managing financial matters and medical information.

ALRC seeks input into serious invasion of privacy law reform

Meanwhile, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has released the Issues Paper, Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era (ALRC Issues Paper 43, 2013), to begin the consultation process for its Inquiry. The Terms of Reference for this inquiry ask the ALRC to consider the detailed legal design of a statutory cause of action, and in addition, other innovative ways the law might prevent or redress serious invasions of privacy.
ALRC Commissioner for the Inquiry, Professor Barbara McDonald, said ‘Although there has been significant privacy reform in recent years, there are still gaps in the legal protection of privacy. The digital era has created further challenges for the law, as, every day, we learn about new technologies for the tracking or surveillance of others and about new ways in which organisations and individuals may use and communicate all sorts of private information online’.

The Issues Paper is available free of charge from the ALRC website and is also available as an ebook.

The ALRC prefers submissions via the ALRC online submission form. Written submissions can be posted to the Executive Director, ALRC, GPO Box 3708 Sydney NSW 2001 or emailed.

Closing date for submissions is Monday, 11 November 2013.

For more information about the ALRC inquiry go to this ALRC link.  

The Final Report is due to be delivered to the Attorney-General by 30 June 2014.
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