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A public opinion survey released by the Privacy Commissioner today shows high levels of concern about individual privacy and risks to personal information on the internet. The UMR survey also shows a dramatic rise in New Zealanders' use of social networking.

New Zealanders worry about children's internet privacy

Information that children put on the internet about themselves is the privacy issue that most worries New Zealanders, according to the survey.

Eighty-eight percent of people surveyed said they were concerned about the issue, including 72 percent who said they were 'very concerned'.

'People's concerns about children's vulnerability on the internet indicate the need for continued vigilance to protect children and young people,' said Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff. She recommended that people could use the resources on internet safety available through Hector's World, Netsafe and the Privacy Commissioner's website.

The UMR survey found that security of personal information on the internet (83 percent) and personal information held by overseas businesses (79 percent) continued to be the issues of next most concern.

Overall trust in government and business increases, but concerns about use of information remain high

Ratings for most organisations tested had increased since the Commissioner's last survey in August 2008.

Trust in Public Sector

Health service providers - including doctors, hospitals and pharmacists - recorded the highest level of trust at 94 percent (92 percent in 2008), followed by the Police at 88 percent (up 4 percent) and the Inland Revenue Department at 84 percent (up 8 percent). Trust in ACC was down 1 percent to 68 percent.

However, people were less confident when asked more specific questions about government agencies' use of their information. Around four in five respondents (82 percent) said they would be concerned if they supplied information to a government agency for one purpose and it was used for another purpose, or if a government agency asked for personal information that didn't seem relevant. Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed concern about government agencies sharing information about them with other government agencies.

'It's excellent to see that New Zealanders continue to have high trust in government agencies,' said Marie Shroff. 'That's a huge business asset for government. The survey shows us, though, that people are watching what government does with their information, and that they care. So government will have to make sure it continues to have good privacy protections in place, to maintain that public trust.'

Trust in Private Sector

The results for businesses showed similar increases in trust but there is also continued concern over what business does with personal information. Sixty-five percent of people said they had trust in retailers, up 5 percent, while a similar proportion trust insurance companies (64 percent, up 7 percent). Even at the 'least trusted' end of the scale (credit rating agencies at 42 percent, and businesses selling over the internet at 31 percent) there was a 4-5 percent rise in trust.

However, 91 percent of respondents said they would be concerned if a business they didn't know got hold of their personal information, while 90 percent of respondents said they would be concerned if a business asked for personal information that didn't seem relevant to the purpose of the transaction or if information supplied to a business for one purpose was used for another purpose. This is roughly the same level of concern as in 2008.

'Businesses need to continue to be vigilant about how they treat people's personal information,' said Marie Shroff. 'From the biggest multinational corporation to the smallest New Zealand enterprise, businesses have information about people - especially their customers and their staff. For business to grow and be successful, people need to know that their information is properly treated. It's not hard to do it right. There's good assistance for businesses out there, including checklists and other guidance material on our website.'

Social networking explodes

About four out of five New Zealanders aged 18-30 now use social networking sites such as Facebook. But it's not just something that younger people use: more than half of 30-44 year olds; about a third of 45-59 year olds; and almost one in 10 people over 60 are active users of social networking sites.

Overall, 43 percent of respondents surveyed said they used a social networking site - compared with 32 percent in June last year and just 14 percent in August 2007 (latter figures from UMR omnibus surveys).

The Privacy Commissioner's survey also found that more than half of users (57%) believed the sites were mainly private spaces where people shared information with their friends, whereas 42 percent believed the sites were mainly public and information could be seen by many people.

This result surprises the Privacy Commissioner. 'That's a high number of people who think that they're more private on their social networking sites than they actually may be. So they're likely to put information up there not realising that they could be sharing it with the whole world - that's risky for them.'

More than four in every five users (86 percent) claimed they knew how to protect their privacy settings, and 66 percent said they had changed privacy settings. 'This shows people take a real interest in trying to protect their privacy,' commented Marie Shroff. 'Using privacy settings is excellent. But it can be quite complicated to get everything the way you want it to be. For instance, if your friends can link to photos or other information on your site, that information can end up unprotected.'

Just over half of all respondents who used social networking sites said they were concerned about what those sites used their personal information for. Asked how comfortable they were with search engines and social networking sites tracking internet use to deliver targeted advertising, 55 percent said they were uncomfortable (66 percent of non-users).

Marie Shroff said: 'These results show that social life is increasingly being lived online. Many people are aware of the risks and are concerned about them. I hope people will use privacy settings and if necessary bring consumer pressure to bear on internet giants such as Google and Facebook to protect their privacy.'

ENDS

The UMR omnibus survey was conducted from 18 to 23 March, and was a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 750 New Zealanders 17 years of age and over. The margin of error for the sample size of 750 (for a 50 percent figure at the 95 percent confidence level) is plus or minus 3.6 percent.

View the full UMR report.

Asia Pacific Privacy Awareness Week is 2-8 May 2010. See www.privacy.org.nz for events and media releases during the week. For international initiatives see www.privacyawarenessweek.org

For internet safety advice go to www.netsafe.org.nz, www.hectorsworld.com and www.privacy.org.nz