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Are Australians too relaxed about online privacy?


Kate Wick

By Kate Wick

4 min read

Australians are increasingly concerned about privacy, yet the number of individuals who feel comfortable providing their personal and credit card details over the internet is on the rise.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) annual scams activity report revealed that $90 million financial losses were reported in 2013 due to scams.

Identity theft and phishing scams, which con individuals into disclosing their personal details, saw a rise of 73 percent year-on-year.

With Australians taking a relaxed approach to online sharing and a rise in online scams — is there cause for concern?

Are you sharing too much?

New findings from Roy Morgan Research show almost one-quarter (23 percent) of individuals 14 years or older are comfortable providing their personal details over the internet in the year to June 2014. This marks a four percent increase over a three-year period. An even larger proportion (34 percent) felt comfortable providing their credit card details online.

Despite these figures, two-thirds of Australians are "worried about invasion of privacy through new technology", the research organisation stated. Within this number, different generations have various views about online privacy.

"As well as frequency of use and familiarity, age plays a big part in our attitudes to privacy. Generation X and Baby Boomers are more concerned about privacy than average, while Generation Y is the most comfortable giving credit card and personal information over the internet with only around average concern for privacy," explained Tim Martin, Roy Morgan Research General Manger for Media.

Australian privacy laws

It's essential to be aware of where your information goes when you plug it in online — not to mention having an appreciation of potential risks, including scams and identity theft. Protecting your transaction and savings accounts, not to mention your identity, is a must in today's internet age.

The collection, storage, use and disclosure of individuals' personal information is governed by the Privacy Act 1998.

Under the Privacy Act, entities are obliged not to use or disclose personal information for a purpose other than the purpose it was collected for. Notifying individuals of the collection of their personal information is also required.

Entities that must abide by the legislation's Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) include government agencies and businesses with $3 million or more in annual turnover.

Not-for-profit organisations with annual turnover of this amount or more must also abide by the act, as well as some smaller businesses, including (but not limited to) private sector health service providers, credit reporting bodies and some employee associations.

Such entities must take reasonable steps to "implement practices, procedures and systems" that ensure compliance with the APP, explained the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Be cyber aware

From using your credit card to buy new clothes to plugging personal information into mobile apps, there are many instances when you will be offering up sensitive information.

It's prudent to read over privacy policies — APP entities are required to have an up to date, clear privacy policy.

However, even when you download an app via Google Play or from the Apple Store, you'll be presented with a list of permissions. This gives you an idea of what kind of information may be accessed by the app on your mobile device.

When presented with a privacy policy, the OAIC recommends individuals find out:

What kind of information will be collected (including that which is sensitive); 

  • If it will be shared with a third party 
  • How it will be stored
  • Whether it will be used and disclosed 
  • How you can access these details 
  • Ways to make a privacy complaint.
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