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24 August 2008

New Zealanders concerned about privacy breaches by business and on the internet, survey shows

New Zealanders are concerned about the safety of their personal information, especially in the business arena and on the internet, according to new research released today.

“The results show that many New Zealanders have a strong and growing awareness of privacy and information technology issues. A third of people surveyed (32%) reported that they had become more concerned about issues of individual privacy and personal information in the last few years,” Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said.

The UMR Research survey again showed very high levels of concern about potential breaches of individual privacy by business. Ninety percent of people said they were concerned (including 74% very concerned) if a business they didn’t know got hold of their personal information. Eighty-six percent were concerned if information supplied to a business for one purpose was used for another purpose.

A new question showed that New Zealanders are not necessarily comfortable with the globalisation of personal information. Eighty-one percent (81%) of respondents were concerned with their personal information being held by overseas businesses and, out of that number, 61% were very concerned.

Levels of trust in the way different organisations protect or use personal information varied widely. Health service providers, including doctors, hospitals and pharmacies rated highly, with 92% of New Zealanders saying they were trustworthy. The level of trust in Police handling of personal information was also high (84%).

Approximately two-thirds of respondents said they trusted the way government departments (65%) and ACC (69%) handled personal information. Credit rating agencies were considered trustworthy by 42% of respondents. Businesses selling over the internet recorded the lowest levels of trust (25%) for their personal information handling.

Two-thirds of respondents (67%) said they were uncomfortable that internet search engines and social networking sites tracked internet use in order to deliver targeted advertising.

Half of New Zealanders (50%) were unaware that everyone in New Zealand has their own national health index number which identifies them in the health system. Knowledge of the existence of the NHI was highest (71%) among those respondents classified as ‘homemakers’. In the different regions, knowledge of the NHI was lower in rural areas (46%) but was lowest in Christchurch, with only 38% of those surveyed reporting awareness of the NHI.

Concern about insurance companies being able to make decisions using genetic information was generally high, with 74% of respondents being either concerned or very concerned.

Concern about privacy was greatest in the areas of safety of children on the internet (87%), and security of personal information on the internet (82%). Like the 2006 survey, the 2008 results show that video surveillance in public places provoked the lowest level of concern (27%).

“An interesting result is that concern about government departments sharing personal information rose from 37% to 62% between the 2006 and 2008 surveys.Perhaps this was partly due to making the question clearer – but it shows that business is not alone in needing to embrace privacy as an issue” said Ms Shroff.

“We are in the middle of an information revolution. Technology enables details about individuals to be collected, used and disclosed on an unprecedented scale, both in New Zealand and overseas. These survey results give some clear messages to both business and government about protecting information in order to retain customer trust.

We plan to continue regular surveys in order to take the “privacy temperature” of New Zealanders” said Ms Shroff. The previous UMR privacy survey was run in March 2006.

Ms Shroff announced the results at a co-hosted business breakfast with the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Full survey results (including earlier surveys) are available at www.privacy.org.nz

For more information see www.privacy.org.nz or contact:

Katrine Evans or Annabel Fordhamtel 04 474 7590 or 021 509 735 or enquiries@privacy.org.nz