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Researchers call for greater understanding of data privacy in digital age

27 Nov 2012

A recently concluded survey has revealed an urgent need for more transparency on privacy protection in Australia. The findings, released at the Data Privacy, Marketing, Research and the Consumer Leaders' Forum presented by the University of Sydney Business School and Association of Market and Social Research Organisation (AMSRO), showed that a majority of Australians don't understand what becomes of their information or how organisations use it.

With over 95 Australian member companies, AMSRO is the peak body for Australia's leading market and social research companies. The exclusive nationwide poll, conducted by Newspoll, was commissioned by AMSRO as part of its privacy code review process to examine what people know about providing personal information over the internet and how much they care about data privacy.

According to the poll, less than ten percent of those questioned claimed they know a lot about how companies and organisations protect their personal information while as many as twenty five percent claimed they knew nothing about it. Between these extremes, close to two-thirds of the population said they knew 'a little' about how these organisations protect personal information.

"This relatively low level of awareness has not changed much over the years," said Dr. Terry Beed, Honorary Associate Professor in the Discipline of Marketing. "As the internet and mobile platforms become the dominant channels of marketing communication, we need a better understanding of how we feel about sharing personal information about ourselves with others."

Dr. Beed emphasised the need for better regulation in the wake of technological advances which enable even children to collect consumer data using unaccredited online surveys. He also said that the same technology can cause privacy breaches like the Telstra incident earlier this year that left over 700,000 customer records publicly accessible because of a software glitch.

"There is a growing risk that some catastrophic mistake will be made," concluded Dr. Beed. "I think it is time that we continue to move towards adequate long-term solutions and exercise the power of research to combat data privacy issues."

The forum was attended by over 60 applied and academic market and social researchers, including Dr. Elizabeth Coombs, the New South Wales Privacy Commissioner and special guest speaker Timothy Pilgrim, the Australian Privacy Commissioner.