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New Zealanders’ online privacy behaviours under the microscope

21 Mar 14

Age, ethnicity, income and education are significant factors in how people manage their personal information online, a Victoria University of Wellington study has found.

The findings of a major national study examining the information behaviours of Kiwis in online commercial transactions, online transactions with government and on social networking sites, are being released today.

Led by Professor Miriam Lips, Chair in e-Government, School of Government at Victoria University, and commissioned by the Department of Internal Affairs, the study is the first of its kind to be carried out in New Zealand.

One of its objectives is to identify effective solutions for managing risks around online identity information behaviours and people’s experiences with cybercrime or cyber-enabled crime.

Professor Lips says the study not only demonstrates that people from various age groups, different ethnicities, and lower income or lower educational backgrounds behave differently online compared to others, but also provides insight into what people from various backgrounds are doing online with their identity information.

For instance, the study found that although 95 percent of the population uses the internet on a regular basis and most of them at home, those people who did not go online in the last 12 months belong to lower income groups or do not have a personal income.

The study also shows that older generations engage less in a variety of online activities, including online personal banking, online government transactions, participation in online entertainment, creation of content and using a social networking site.

“Fourteen percent of young people up to 24 years of age indicated that they don’t know why they provide their personal details in online commercial transactions," Professor Lips says. "That indicates another significant generational difference in people’s online privacy behaviours."

The study indicated that the majority of New Zealanders have a high level of trust that New Zealand government agencies will keep their identity information safe—significantly higher than overseas data suggests—but the way individuals choose to provide information differs.

“Māori, for instance, are significantly more likely to share personal information in online government transactions, compared with non-Māori,” says Professor Lips.

Another finding showed that only 25 percent of the population reads online privacy statements and is able to understand them.

“Forty-four percent of the population usually do not read online privacy statements at all, 25 percent usually read them but don’t understand them, and 3.3 percent don’t know where to find them," Professor Lips adds. "That certainly suggests to me that there is room for improvement."

Professor Lips says that New Zealanders are quite savvy with protecting their identity information online with, for instance, 94 percent of the population using antivirus software, 87 percent limiting the personal information they provide online, 82 percent using tools to limit unsolicited emails such as spam, and 77 percent using security-protected WiFi.

Also, direct experience with forms of cyber-enabled crime was found to be much less common in New Zealand compared to overseas experience.

“One possible explanation is that Kiwis are more careful with their identity information online compared to people from other countries and therefore forms of cybercrime or cyber-enabled crime do not happen that often in New Zealand. Another possibility is that Kiwis are less targeted by online thieves or criminals,” Professor Lips says.

She says people from different ethnic groups and people of low income significantly more often had reported an experience with a form of cyber-enabled crime.

However, she warns that these findings should be regarded with caution as survey participants were selected through random sampling using the New Zealand Electoral Roll, meaning comparatively small numbers of some groups are represented, including Pasifika and Asians.

The research findings are based on an in-depth survey of 467 respondents, with two more components of the research yet to be completed before a full picture can be presented. The second stage of the project, which will involve qualitative interviews and focus groups, is due to be completed later this year.

“Certainly there are strong themes coming through already, and it seems clear that further education is needed to prevent uncomfortable situations online,” Professor Lips adds.

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