Australians know the least – and care the least – about how their personal data is used

As driver licenses are vacuumed into a nationwide database, just 23 percent of Australians know what happens to their personal data – and they care less than global peers, too

Credit: ID 16501840 © Davidrey |

Australians understand less about the way their private information is used than peers in nine other comparable countries, according to a new survey that raises concerns about consumers’ ability to rebound after potentially being compromised in increasingly common data breaches.

Released just as the Victorian government joins federal government efforts to add all drivers’ license photos to the National Driver License Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS), the HERE Market Intelligence report was conducted by global research agency ESOMAR and research partners BuzzBack Research and Cint. It surveyed 10,176 consumers across the US, Brazil, China, India, Australia, Japan and four European countries.

Consumers in all countries except Germany are sharing their location data more frequently than they did a year ago, the survey found, despite 60 percent of respondents saying they had experienced the misuse of their data in the last two or three years.

Some 47 percent of Australians said they had been spammed by companies with which they had had no previous contact – ahead of the global average of 40 percent. And 35 percent of Australians reported being victims of phishing, ahead of the 27 percent figure globally.

Australians were less likely than their global peers – 21 percent compared with 28 percent – to agree that sharing personal information is “vital and necessary in our digitalized and connected world”.

Yet just 23 percent of Australian respondents were aware of what happens with their personal information once it’s shared with a data collector – well behind the 33 percent figure globally. Australians were also less likely – 31 percent compared to 36 percent globally – to take their business elsewhere even if companies abuse their personal data.

Sharing happens whether you want it or not

Despite being “conflicted” about sharing of their personal data, consumers were overall more willing to give up their data for incentives such as enhanced security or a financial reward.

Of those who experienced misuse of their data, 27 percent said that misuse had been of “aggressive” forms such as the leaking of personal details (reported by 12 percent of users), hacking of an email account (12 percent), or the fraudulent use of a bank account or credit card (11 percent).

Overall, 53 percent of respondents said they are concerned about sharing their personal information digitally and 32 percent said sharing their location data makes them feel “vulnerable or stressed”.

Many respondents feel disconnected from the control processes around personal data, with half of respondents saying they have little or no control over the use of their data. Tech-savvy respondents were more likely to say they feel in control of their data because they are comfortable with activities such as setting preferences and changing permissions.

With both cybercriminal attacks and increasingly intrusive data-dependent activities occurring on a regular basis, the perceived lack of control is rooted in harsh reality.

The consolidation of millions of drivers’ license photos into the single NDLFRS database is a significant and universal step that will not only centralise personal information, but will open it up to a variety of new uses that many Australians may not be aware of.

The state’s Labor government has painted the initiative as a way of cracking down on identity fraud, with minister for roads Jaala Pulford saying at the announcement that the system – which will initially only be available to VicRoads and the Victoria Police – will “make it harder for people to conceal their true identities and use multiple licenses to avoid traffic fines, demerit points or license cancellations. This will greatly assist in removing unauthorised and dangerous drivers from our roads.”

Yet this reuse of personal data runs contrary to the findings of the HERE report, in which just 12 percent of non tech-savvy respondents said they are happy to share general personal data if there is “something of value” in it for them.

It’s not clear whether promised improvements in identity theft would qualify, but the security of the database will be a primary concern – particularly, as the report notes, because consumers “experience the consequences of data use and misuse most directly.”

Some 14 percent of non tech-savvy respondents believe that laws and regulations can prevent misuse of personal data, while just 10 percent believe that laws and regulations can prevent misuse of location data.

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