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Australian consumers more knowledgeable than ever on privacy

Patrick Stafford /

Australians are more knowledgeable than ever about their privacy rights – and businesses are at risk of losing customers if they underestimate just how seriously consumers take their privacy.

The warning is contained in a new report released by the Australian Information Commissioner, which found yesterday 48% of Australians believe online services, including social media, form the greatest risk to privacy.

The message for businesses is clear: over 60% of Australians say they haven’t dealt with an organisation because of privacy concerns, up from 40% in 2007.

The growing nature of data collection in all industries means this finding has significance for businesses of all sizes, and in all sectors.

But perhaps the greatest warning is this: the survey found 97% of Australians believe the use of personal information by revealing customer data to another customer is inappropriate.

Also, 97% said it was inappropriate for information to be used for a purpose other than the reason given.

And 96% said it would be inappropriate to be contacted by an unfamiliar organisation.

The consequences of going against these beliefs are clear. The survey found 45% were annoyed by this type of activity, compared to 27% in 2007.

Combined with the statistics showing people are willing to stop shopping or visiting an organisation based on privacy considerations, this is a significant finding.

Donna Short, partner at law firm Henry Davis York, told SmartCompany this morning businesses need to be mindful that more than ever, Australians know their rights regarding privacy.

“They are educated about what businesses can or can’t do with their personal information,” she says.

“Australian consumers generally find their privacy policies fairly boring, and don’t like to read them. Certainly the view taken by the Privacy Commissioner’s Office is that the policy should be in plain English, and easy to read.

“If you’re going to use personal information for anything other than services, they have to notify the customer and give that notification.”

Short says businesses need to familiarise themselves with the changes coming to privacy laws next year. For instance, if businesses are sending information overseas, from March 2014 they will be obligated to disclose where that information is going and to which countries.

“People need to know the organisations they work with have relevant security systems in place.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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