Changes in public sentiment in relation to data privacy during COVID-19

28 November 2020

This rapid research brief synthesises the evidence on whether COVID-19 has had an impact on public sentiment in relation to privacy and the widespread use of data and technology by government in responding to the public health crisis, be it through tracing, compliance or enforcement.

Key findings:

  • During the first few months of the pandemic, Australians’ trust in federal and state and territory governments to collect and use their personal data increased. However, the majority of Australians are still concerned about the security of their personal information.
  • Increase in trust is strongly related to confidence in Australian governments’ management of the public health response.
  • Around half of Australians surveyed agree that some privacy concessions must be made to combat COVID-19, as long as the changes are not permanent.
  • The change in public sentiment is not uniform. Women, people aged over 45 years, and those who live in relatively advantaged areas show the greatest increase in trust in governments and other organisations to maintain data privacy. Marginalised groups and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are less likely to trust government to do so.
  • The purpose, consent and opt-in arrangements around data and technology remain important factors in public sentiment towards government collection and use of data.
  • The extent to which governments protect personal data – including data collected by third parties – and are transparent about their use and value during the pandemic, will shape Australian attitudes going forward.

Contributing authors
Professor Ariadne Vromen FASSA
Lead author: Professor Ariadne Vromen FASSA Sir John Bunting Chair of Public Administration and Deputy Dean (Research), Australian and New Zealand School of Government, Crawford School, Australian National University
Professor Mark Andrejevic
Professor Mark Andrejevic School of Media, Film, and Journalism, Monash University
Professor Nicholas Biddle
Professor Nicholas Biddle Associate Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods
Image of Professor Simon Dennis
Professor Simon Dennis Director, Complex Human Data Hub, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne
Image of Dr Paul Garrett
Dr Paul Garrett Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne
Professor Gerard Goggin FAHA
Professor Gerard Goggin FAHA Wee Kim Wee Chair in Communication Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Kate Hannah
Kate Hannah Deputy Director, Equity and Diversity Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland
Distinguished Professor Larissa Hjorth
Distinguished Professor Larissa Hjorth Director of the Design and Creative Practice ECP Platform, RMIT
Professor Jolanda Jetten FASSA
Professor Jolanda Jetten FASSA Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Queensland
Professor Deborah Lupton FASSA
Professor Deborah Lupton FASSA SHARP Professor, Centre for Social Research in Health and the Social Policy Research Centre, Director of the Vitalities Lab, UNSW Sydney
Associate Professor Mark Taylor
Associate Professor Mark Taylor Deputy Director of HeLEX@Melbourne, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
Professor Maggie Walter FASSA
Professor Maggie Walter FASSA Distinguished Professor of Sociology, The University of Tasmania
Professor Kimberlee Weatherall
Professor Kimberlee Weatherall Sydney Law School, The University of Sydneyand Chief Investigator, ARCCentre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society
Peer reviewers
Image of Dr Simon Barry
Dr Simon Barry Research Director Analytics, Data61, CSIRO
Image of Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE
Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE President, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering
Image of Professor Enrico Coiera FAHMS
Professor Enrico Coiera FAHMS Director, Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University
Professor Stephen Duckett FASSA FAHMS
Professor Stephen Duckett FASSA FAHMS Health Program Director, Grattan Institute
Professor Kirsten McCaffery FAHMS
Professor Kirsten McCaffery FAHMS NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, The University of Sydney
Dr Cecile Paris
Dr Cecile Paris Chief Research Scientist, Data61, CSIRO
Professor Julian Thomas FAHA
Professor Julian Thomas FAHA Professor for Media and Communications and Enabling Capability Platform Director, Social Change, RMIT University
Professor Dennis Trewin AO FASSA
Professor Dennis Trewin AO FASSA

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