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Privacy and Wonder in the Land Down Under

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner just released the results of a new survey, entitled "OAIC Community Attitudes to Privacy survey Research Report 2013," that asked citizens of the Land Down Under how they felt about digital privacy. The results were predictable, yet interesting just the same.

Whenever such polls are taken, the public inevitably expresses concern for the way their personal information is handled by the entities with which that information is shared. That’s understandable. If I provide my financial profile through an online facility, I want to know that the organization(s) behind that process have invested in the means to protect that information from snooping and are also vigilant to safeguard the data if it must be stored.

The same holds true for medical information. I don’t want just anyone knowing the reasons behind my visits to the doctor, the results of any tests or procedures, or what I’ve shared with my doctor after stepping through the door to the examination room and stripping down for an examination.

But I’m always a bit amused when the results of studies related to attitudes toward privacy reveal that people are concerned with privacy risks related to social media. In the case of the new Australian report, 48 percent of citizens say online services such as social media pose the greatest risk to their privacy.

That’s nearly half of the population, yet those concerns don’t seem to be a deterrent to Australians’ use of social media. A study conducted in May by research firm Sensis revealed that 65 percent of Australians use social media, meaning that at least 17 percent of Aussies willingly engage in online activity they believe to be a risk to their privacy. (And it’s likely the number is a lot higher than that.)

What’s more, according to the Sensis study 45 percent log in to their accounts on a daily basis, and 17 percent do so at least five times a day. For 37 percent, it is the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning, while 42 percent said it is the last thing they do before turning in for the night. And if you’ll pardon the pun, six percent even log in while in the dunny (that’s the toilet, for anyone not familiar with Aussie slang).

But the point that I find most interesting is that, according to an article in the Drum, “The survey… showed that people expect the organizations they deal with to take effective steps to safeguard their personal information.”

Yet there’s no indication that the survey asked what steps those individuals are taking to safeguard their own information. We are the primary owners and stewards of our digital privacy. It is our responsibility to take the first steps required to ensure we are as safe as possible when sharing information online.

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