Australians Do Not Think It’s A G’Day For Internet Privacy

English: Australian flag seen flying in Toowoo...

Last week I published a post here about the Pew survey which found that the vast majority of Internet users hate targeted ads and are very concerned about their privacy. Well, if you thought that survey wasn’t enough, there is a new one out this week.

This time it’s from Australia and the survey results are very similar. Australians are very concerned about their privacy on the Internet – many of them feel that they are in the dark about what Internet companies know about them and what they’re doing with their personal data.

The survey was conducted for the University of Queensland by Dr. Mark Andrejevic between November 17 and December 14, 2011. Keep in mind that Google announced its plan to launch its more intrusive privacy policy in late January of this year.

Australians are overwhelmingly in favor of more privacy legal rights and they want effective regulations to help them safeguard their personal data from Internet companies that want to steal their data. More than 90% of them support regulations that would allow them to control how their personal data is captured and used – and they also want collection of data to be completely transparent. If Internet companies, such as Google, are going to collect personal data about users then they need to collect only absolutely necessary data – nothing more. Many of these companies harvest a lot of data and keep it for the future until they can find a way to monetize it. Australians also want an opt-out option of data harvesting – something Google has flat-out refused to do. Google said that if users don’t like how the company is doing business, they can hit the road and not use any of their services. Dr. Andrejevic said:

“In the online world, users are increasingly being asked to consent to the collection of detailed, personal information in exchange for access to online services. But most of us have very little idea about what information is being collected and how it’s being used so we cannot provide informed consent”

 Australians support something like the European “right to be forgotten”, which will allow Internet users to request their personal data be permanently deleted from company servers. “Deleted” doesn’t mean companies can simply just transfer that data to another file on their servers, they will be legally required to wipe that information off their system for good. Right now, Google and other Internet companies don’t respect this right to be forgotten. Even though Europe has strong laws to help protect their people, many of these companies have ignored these laws – especially companies that aren’t based in Europe.  However, the EU announced a major revision to its laws and they’re going to make it tougher. It will be much more difficult for Google to ignore EU laws.

Dr. Andrejevic said that this issue of personal data and Internet privacy isn’t going away any time soon. As more of us spend more time on the Internet, there is going to be a greater need for stronger protection. Right now though, there is still a great imbalance and secrecy surrounding how companies like Google operates. Google knows so much about us but we know very little about Google.

The survey found that 56% of Australians do not approve of targeted ads based on personal information. A larger majority – 64% – do not approve of censorship of their searches (or “personalized” search) based on their personal information.

75% of respondents said they wanted to know how companies collect their personal data and in what ways they use it. If they felt too suspicious and wanted to avoid the collection of personal data, 69% of Australians refused to go on a website or application because it collected too much information.

97% of Australians said they should be allowed to take legal action against companies like Google in the case of serious breaches of their privacy.

“The issue of personal information is likely to increase in importance as more people spend more of their time using devices and applications which capture ever more detailed information about their lives, their activities, and their communications, Dr. Andrejevic said”

It’s abundantly clear that Australians care very much about their online privacy. Let’s hope that Australian officials get the message and will help protect the rights of their people. Companies like Google shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever it wants on the Web. It’s time to revisit Australian privacy law.

Dr. Andrejevic will present his findings at a public lecture at University of Queensland Art Museum on Thursday April 26th, 2012.

For more information:

University of Queensland – click here

The Register, “90% of AU net users want ‘do not track’” – click here

BBC, “Do you have the right to be forgotten online?” – click here

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