Australians want more control over privacy, survey shows

24 September 2020
Tags: media release

Privacy is a major concern for 70% of Australians while 87% want more control and choice over the collection and use of their personal information, a new study shows.

The Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey (ACAPS) 2020 released today provides a comprehensive view of beliefs and concerns about the protection of personal information.

The research was commissioned by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and tests attitudes on topics such as data practices, privacy reform, children’s privacy and COVID-19.

“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,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said.

“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.”

The survey shows that:

  • Community concerns about privacy are based on experience: 59% of Australians had a problem with how their data was used over the past year, such as unwanted marketing communications, or information being collected when it was not required
  • Australians are increasingly questioning data practices where the purpose for collecting personal information is unclear: 81% consider it a misuse for an organisation to ask for information that doesn't seem relevant to the purpose of the transaction, up 7% since 2017
  • Privacy is the leading consideration when choosing an app or program to download, ahead of quality, convenience and price, and 84% consider privacy extremely or very important when choosing a digital service
  • Australians trust health service providers the most when it comes to handling personal information, followed by government, and trust social media the least
  • Parents are more concerned about their children’s privacy than their own: 82% believe children must be empowered to use online services, but their data privacy must be protected
  • The community wants more information and clearer privacy policies to help them manage their privacy: 85% have a clear understanding of why they should protect their personal information but 49% say they don’t know how

Commissioner Falk said as awareness of privacy issues had increased in recent years, community trust in organisations to handle personal information continued to decline.

“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.”

Commissioner Falk said research into community attitudes on privacy began in 1990, when the Privacy Act had limited application to the private sector.

“As we head into the 2020s, our regulatory framework and the Privacy Act’s coverage are being reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose over the next decade and aligns with community expectations,” she said.

“My office will use the findings of our ACAPS 2020 report to inform our input to the review and our regulatory priorities for the coming years.”

The full report can be found at oaic.gov.au/acaps2020

Survey highlights

  • The biggest privacy risks identified by Australians in 2020 are identify theft and fraud (76%), data security and breaches (61%), and digital services, including social media sites (58%)
  • Most Australians believe they should have the right to ask a business to delete their personal information (84%) and to seek compensation in the courts for a breach of privacy (78%)
  • Actions taken to protect privacy are also changing: while people are less likely to always or often adjust privacy settings on a social networking site (down 9% since 2017 to 46%) or check websites are secure before sharing personal information (down 6% to 56%), more Australians always or often refuse to provide personal information (up 6% to 34%), while 7 in 10 have deleted an app and/or denied it permission to access information due to privacy concerns
  • Since 2007, there has been a general downward trend in trust in personal information handling, including in companies in general (down by 13%) and in Federal Government departments (down 14%)
  • 24% feel the privacy of their personal information is well protected, while 40% feel it is poorly protected, and 83% would like the government to do more to protect the privacy of their data
  • Australians are more likely to trust a website or service if they have read the privacy policy, but only 20% read privacy policies and are confident they understand them
  • Australian parents give their children access to connected devices and digital services early in life and are uncomfortable with businesses tracking the location of a child without permission (70%) or obtaining personal information about a child and selling it to third parties (69%)

About ACAPS

 The Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey (ACAPS) is a longstanding study to evaluate awareness, understanding, behaviour and concerns about privacy. The research was first conducted in 1990 and took on its current form in 2001.

It provides longitudinal information on the attitudes Australians hold regarding key privacy issues, their experiences and perspectives towards misuse of personal data, as well as actions taken to protect their privacy. 

The OAIC commissioned the 2020 survey from Lonergan Research.

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