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Media Release: Results of research into community attitudes towards privacy released
26 October 2004
The Federal Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, has today released the findings of research into the privacy attitudes of Australians. The focus of the research was to examine people's attitudes to privacy in a number of areas including: health, the Internet, dealing with businesses and government organisations, and privacy in the workplace.
"The research results illustrate that Australians have complex and variable attitudes towards privacy," Ms Curtis said. "As you might expect people's privacy attitudes vary depending on the type of personal information involved and what type of organisation is requesting it."
A copy of the research results is available @ http://privacy.gov.au/aboutprivacy/attitudes/
Most trustworthy to least trustworthy
"The research results show that respondents rate health service providers as the most trustworthy organisations, followed by financial organisations and government organisations and they considered the least trustworthy organisations to be internet sales companies, and mail order companies," Ms Curtis said.
"People are most reluctant to reveal their financial details, income, home phone number, medical history and home address.
"For some people, privacy is such a major concern that 33% said that they had decided not to deal with a private sector organisation in order to protect their personal information."
So, what constitutes a privacy invasion?
"While people have differing ideas of whom they trust and what information they are sensitive about, people were clear about what they considered to be a privacy invasion," said Ms Curtis.
- 90-95% of respondents to the research consider the following hypothetical situations to be an invasion of privacy:
- a business that you don't know gets hold of your personal information (94% consider this a privacy invasion);
- a business monitors your activities on the internet, recording information on the sites you visit without your knowledge (93% consider this a privacy invasion);
- you supply your information to a business for a specific purpose and the business uses it for another purpose (93% consider this a privacy invasion);
- a business asks you for personal information that doesn't seem relevant to the purpose of the transaction (94% consider this a privacy invasion).
"However 84% of people do not consider being asked to produce identification to be an invasion of privacy."
"While health service providers are regarded as the most trustworthy organisations people still expect to exercise some control over their health information," Ms Curtis said.
"38% of respondents do not agree that their doctor should be able to discuss their personal medical details with other health professionals, in a way that identifies them, without their consent even if the doctor thinks this will assist their treatment.
"64% of people felt that if a national health database was established that inclusion into the database should be voluntary. Also 64% of respondents felt that an individual's permission should be sought before de-identified information derived from personal information about them is used for research purposes."
"When it comes to protecting privacy online it seems many Australians are taking some action," Ms Curtis said. "When asked what people were doing to protect their privacy online people said that they:
- regularly updated antivirus software (80% of respondents)
- used a firewall (80% of respondents)
- rejected cookies (48% of respondents).
"People's level of concern about the security of personal information when dealing over the internet has risen since 2001 from 57% to 62% in 2004."
Awareness of the Office
"While sixty percent of respondents claimed to be aware that federal privacy laws existed, up from 43% in 2001, only 34% of respondents were aware that the Federal Privacy Commissioner existed," said Ms Curtis.
"When asked to whom they would report the misuse of their personal information, 29% said they didn't know. The remainder mentioned a number of different authorities or organisations, with 7% mentioning the Privacy Commissioner, 19% the ombudsman, 15% the organisation involved, 13% the Police, 10% would report it to the local consumer affairs office, and 8% of respondents said that they would report it to their local or state MP.
The Office commissioned Roy Morgan Research, in March 2004, to investigate community attitudes towards privacy. The Company conducted a nation-wide telephone study by calling 1,507 adults during May 2004. This study was in part a replication of a similar study conducted in 2001.
Three of the questions asked in the 2004 survey were verified by re-asking them to a further 1214 respondents in a second round questioning. The majority of questions in the 2004 survey were repeated from the 2001 survey. Respondents interviewed were representative of the adult population nationwide, and results were weighted by age, sex and region using census data.
Input into the review
The results of the research will be used in the review of the private sector provisions of the Privacy Act being undertaken by the Office. Details of the review are available @ http://privacy.gov.au/law/reform/review/