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Australians want more control over privacy

Nearly nine in 10 Australians want more control and choice over the collection and use of their personal information amid declining trust in how organisations handle personal data, survey finds

Privacy is a major concern for 70% of Australians, while nearly nine in 10 want more control and choice over the collection and use of their personal information, according to a study by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Released today, the Australian community attitudes to privacy survey 2020 polls the views of Australians on topics such as data practices, privacy reform, children’s privacy and Covid-19. It is also the first time the study was conducted online in its 30-year history.

“Understanding community views on the protection of their personal data is critical when we are trying to solve the biggest health and economic crisis of our time,” said Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk.

“Privacy controls and practices that live up to community expectations will create the trust and confidence that is needed for the public to engage and make data-driven solutions a success.

“Our survey shows data privacy is a significant concern for Australians, particularly as the digital environment and data practices evolve rapidly. The community sees identity theft and fraud, and data breaches and security, as the biggest privacy risks we face today,” she added.

Australians’ concern about privacy is driven by experience. Nearly 60% respondents experienced a problem with how their data was used during the 12 months leading up to the survey, such as unwanted marketing communications, or personal information being collected when it was not required.

Compared to 2017, when the survey was last conducted, Australians are also more likely to view identity theft and fraud as the biggest risks to privacy, along with data security and data breaches.

At the same time, they are increasingly questioning data practices where the purpose for collecting personal information is unclear: 81% consider it a misuse when an organisation asks for information that does not seem relevant to the purpose of the transaction, up 7% since 2017.

In response, Australians are more likely to take certain actions to protect their privacy than in 2017, such as deleting an app, denying permission to access their information, or clearing their browser history.

Australians also appear to be more comfortable with data practices where the purpose is clearly understood – for example, law enforcement using facial recognition and video surveillance to identify suspects.

They are concerned about businesses tracking their locations through mobiles or web browsers (62%) and are generally reluctant to provide biometric information (66%). Commercial profiling activities drive higher levels of discomfort than government data practices.

Falk said as awareness of privacy issues had increased in recent years, community trust in organisations to handle personal information continued to decline. Australians trust social media the least and health service providers the most when it comes to handling personal information.

“Our research shows Australians want to be protected against harmful practices, and 84% believe personal information should not be used in ways that cause harm, loss or distress,” she said.

“The report has clear signals for businesses collecting personal information about how to build consumer trust and confidence in their privacy and data handling practices.

“It also contains important insights into community attitudes as the Australian government prepares to review the Privacy Act 1988,” she added.

Falk said Australia’s privacy regulations are being reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose over the next decade and aligns with community expectations. “My office will use the findings of our report to inform our input to the review and our regulatory priorities for the coming years,” she said.

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