New Research Shows Public Concern Over Data Harvesting

The majority of Australians are not comfortable with the way government and companies collect and use their personal information, according to new research.

To coincide with its launch, the Australia Institute’s new Centre for Responsible Technology today released new research showing high levels of discomfort with the way personal information is collected, repurposed and stored.

The polling conducted by Essential Research found:

  • Three quarters of respondents are uncomfortable with platforms selling information to other businesses
  • Two thirds are uncomfortable with platforms tailoring products and services based on personal information.
  • 58 per cent are uncomfortable with commercial providers providing information to the government or other agencies in support of national security.
  • And 56 per cent of respondents are uncomfortable with the government collecting facial recognition data, even when it’s to verify child access to online content.

Centre for Responsible Technology director Peter Lewis said the findings show the extent to which both business and government have lost their social licence to collect personal information.

“The findings reflect increased public distrust at the data models at the very heart of the business strategies of big tech organisations like Facebook and Google. They also show a breakdown of trust in the government to collect information in the public interest,” Mr Lewis said.

“What is most confounding about these results is that the public is uncomfortable with the use of data in the precise ways they routinely consent to it being used.”

A separate question found that just 19 per cent of people say they fully read and understand the terms and conditions of websites they visit.

The findings will be used to inform the Centre for Responsible Technology’s ‘Good Data’ project, one its four foundational programs. It will aim to develop a set of guard rails and red lines around the way organisations handle personal information.

“The challenge at the moment is there is a massive harvesting of personal information occurring when the public doesn’t even have a language about what is OK and what is not OK,” Mr Lewis said.

“With more and more organisations building their models around the re-use of personal information we need a total rethink of data: is it the oil of the information economy that powers the future or is it more like uranium which is dangerous to handle and impossible to dispose of?

“These are live debates globally and the Centre for Responsible Technology aims to give ordinary Australians a seat at that table.

“We want to give people the information to make choices about how their information is used so they can exercise greater control as consumers and as citizens.

“And we want to work with organisations who respect their customers and members to put in place data policies that give them a real choice in controlling where and how far their personal information travels.”

The Centre for Responsible Technology launched in Canberra, Wednesday 20 November with a roundtable of academics, activists, unions and for-purpose businesses.

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