Australians have become increasingly concerned about what happens to their data.
Last month, the personal details of almost 50,000 employees from Australian government agencies and various other companies was leaked online.
This included the credit card details and passwords of staff from the Department of Finance and Australian Electoral Commission, thanks to a vulnerability on Amazon S3 bucket cloud storage.
This breach was the second-largest in Australia’s history, following last year’s Red Cross Blood Service leak, when the records of almost 1.3 million blood donations were made available online.
Add to this Uber recently confirming a 2016 global breach which left the details of 57 million users exposed online -- including those of 1.2 millions Aussies -- and Australians may feel as though they are helpless when it comes to online privacy.
And for good reason.
The University of Sydney has published its Digital Rights and Governance in Australia and Asia project as part of the Research Excellence Initiative.
The report found that of the 1,600 Australians surveyed, 62% did not feel in control over their data; only 38% did.
“Our results provide a snapshot of the nation’s attitudes and behaviours in the digital world and show Australians’ clear concerns about how their information is being used and accessed by governments, social media platforms and corporations,” said co-author Professor Ariadne Vromen.
Professor of Law at the University of Sydney and co-author of the paper, Kimberlee Weatherall, said Australians now want to know what happens with their data.
“There is a meaningful desire amongst the community to be better informed and empowered about personal data,” she said.
“The recent Uber data breach emerged after our research was complete, but it nonetheless shows digital privacy concerns are often well-founded.”
Distrust was mainly directed at the private sector, with 57% of respondents reporting they had concerns about their privacy being violated by corporations, compared to 47% being concerned about government.
The report addressed issues of digital rights, and highlighted the ethical and legal challenges digitisation bring.
It also revealed that although 58% of Australians are opposed to a government-mandated metadata retention scheme, the majority (57%) supported government data-gathering as an anti-terrorism measure.
The findings echoed those of the Data Sharing Frameworks white paper published by ACS’ Data Sharing Taskforce in September, which highlighted the need for ethical and privacy-preserving frameworks to support data sharing.
Headed by Dr Ian Oppermann, the technical paper was developed to help businesses and government make better use of data, while not compromising the privacy of individuals.
Critically, the paper focused on the notion of trust in a digitised world.
“There’s a complex challenge underpinning data sharing that crosses technical, social and ethical boundaries in making data available to be shared while maintaining the privacy of the individual,” said Oppermann on the launch of the paper.
“This white paper is an important first step to opening and driving the conversation, and developing a framework that can be used by business and government for the benefit of all Australians.”