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Data misuse a concern for 80pc of Australians

Weeks after Facebook’s data harvesting scandal, data is still on the minds of media professionals and the general public alike. With awareness of the issue at an all-time high, 80 per cent of Australians are concerned that the misuse of their personal data could have serious implications. Research from Melbourne-based data firm Nature found that...

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Weeks after Facebook’s data harvesting scandal, data is still on the minds of media professionals and the general public alike. With awareness of the issue at an all-time high, 80 per cent of Australians are concerned that the misuse of their personal data could have serious implications.

Research from Melbourne-based data firm Nature found that 73 per cent of Australians are concerned that their personal data will be misused online, with only 22 per cent of Australians open to targeted advertising and messages from service providers.

Despite this, Facebook’s first quarter results released today has shown the site’s user base has grown by 70 million in the first three months of the year to 2.2 billion. During the period, the social network’s advertising revenue improved by 50 per cent, reaching $US11.8 billion year-on-year.

The research was conducted following Facebook’s privacy breach, in which the data of an estimated 87 million users was harvested by a third party and sold to consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Of the 1000 people interviewed between April 13 and 15, two out of three Australians aged over 18 had heard of the “data incident”, with 88 per cent believing it to be a serious breach.

It is important to note that as the Facebook scandal broke in March toward the end of the first quarter, the real impact of the incident is unlikely to be seen until the company’s half year results are released in July.

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Australians want the target off their backs

The wealth of data Facebook collects on individual users is useful for advertisers, but the research found that it turns off a majority of Australians.

Only one in five Australians agree that it is fair for free social media platforms to make use of personal data to raise revenue.

Sixty per cent of those surveyed said they do not want to receive targeted advertising, with 62 per cent said they found the practice “creepy”. Because of this, only one in five users would be prepared to share their personal data if it led to better browsing suggestions.

The evasion of targeted advertising extends into purchases, with only 24 per cent of Australians willing to share their online shopping behaviour.

As publishers continue the push into smart home technology, it is interesting to note that only three per cent of Australians are prepared to share their Google Home, Alexa or Siri conversations.

While Australians are concerned about their data, only two in five understand how to protect themselves against misuse of their personal data.

The enforcement of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation laws on May 25 will make it harder for marketers to target users, forcing brands to gain express permissions from individuals before they can collect and use data.

While the laws will protect only EU citizens, marketers will be affected through a limit on data that can be used to target users and the need to seek permissions on data already obtained. The opt-in method will make it much easier for users to control whether their data is used.

The laws also will empower users by allowing them to obtain the information a company has on them and the right to request it to be erased. If a company does not comply, it faces fines of up to 4 per cent of its global annual revenue.

Even if a user is not an EU citizen, the person may be protected by the law if the data a company uses is stored within EU borders.

In an ironic turn, Facebook already has moved to protect itself from the laws, with reports that the company is in the process of migrating the data of 1.9 million users from its headquarters in Ireland to North America.

The company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg also indirectly confirmed that Facebook was already complying with the GDPR laws when photographers snapped his unattended notes at his appearance before US Congress earlier this month.

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