Australians have become more trusting of organisations and governments to handle their personal data and privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.
A longitudinal study from the Australian National University measured more than 3200 Australians' attitudes toward data privacy and security before and during the health crisis, including attitudes related to the use of the COVIDSafe app.
By asking respondents to rate their trust in how their personal data is handled by governments and other organisations on a scale of one to 10, the researchers found trust had increased in every sector.
"The organisation with the highest level of trust was the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which jumped from 6.42 to 7.10 between 2018 and 2020," study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.
"The ABS was closely followed by universities (5.74 to 6.43), state and territories where people lived (5.36 to 6.36), and the federal government (5.46 to 6.29).
"However, the greatest increase in trust was for companies that people use to make online purchases, like banks and telecommunications companies, with trust for these companies increasing by almost 30 percent."
Even social media companies saw an increase in trust from the public, rising from just 2.88 out of 10 to 3.43 during the pandemic, the researchers claimed
"The level of Australians' trust, confidence and concerns about sharing their personal data is a critical question during this pandemic," Biddle said.
"It directly relates to the extent to which governments are able to use personal data to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19.
"In turn, the extent to which governments' protect personal data will help shape the Australians' views about how their data is shared and used into the future."
Support for the COVIDSafe was evenly split between both male and female respondents, as well as among Labor and Coalition voters.
Over 44 percent of male respondents reported downloading the app, compared to 43 percent of females, with most downloads in the 55 to 64 age bracket.
People aged between 18 and 24 reported the lowest uptake of the app.
Meanwhile, respondents who tended to vote for neither major political party were less likely to have downloaded the app.
Biddle said the most common reason for having downloaded the COVIDSafe app was because it may help end social distancing restrictions more quickly.
"Our research shows that the level of trust in the app strongly related to people's trust in the government; if they trust government they are more likely to download it.
"For those who had not tried to download the app, the two most common reasons given related to trust, with 20.8 percent of Australians saying they didn't trust government with their data and an additional 20.5 percent saying they didn't trust the safety of the app.
"A further 16.9 percent said that they didn't want the government 'tracking me'."
However, the study showed that despite increased trust in data privacy practices during the pandemic, a majority of Australians are still worried about the security of their personal data and information in general.
"More than nine in 10 Australians, 92.3 percent, think it is increasingly likely they will become a victim of cybercrime, while 87.7 percent say they are concerned their online personal information is not kept secure by websites," study co-author Professor Matthew Gray said.
"And 85.8 percent of Australians avoid disclosing information online."
Biddle added that the study supports the notion that increasing trust among the public will be important in being able to make effective policy interventions in future scenarios, and vice versa.
"Our findings provide strong support for the notion that trust and confidence in different aspects of policy design and delivery interact with each other, creating vicious or virtuous circles."