How do we manage our online identities? | ACMA

How do we manage our online identities?

Sharing digital identity: Digital footprints and identities research—Short report 2  (pdf and Word) looks at how we manage our identities online. It is taken from the findings of the Digital footprints and identities research, which aimed to understand how Australians act and react to the challenges of digital identity when they are online.

Protecting personal data

Australians want control of information about themselves held by providers of online services, sites and applications because they do not fully trust the online world to look after their digital identities.

Data collected for a single activity today is likely to be stored for an extended period and put to a variety of uses in the future. Consequently, the extent of consumers’ trust in online providers is linked to how transparent providers are about how personal information is used.

Consumers are responding to this challenging environment by taking steps to protect their personal data. These steps include providing false, misleading or minimal identity information.

Many (61 per cent) say they would withhold information if it appeared not to be needed for the service offered.

The three digital identities

Digital identities can be broadly grouped into professional, transactional and social identities. This research explored the transactional and social identities.

Australians want to keep any transactional identity, such as an online shopping account, within the narrowest parameters possible. They do this, for example, by withholding all information except what is necessary for a successful result.

The majority of the research participants saw social networking identities as digital presentations of their everyday personal and family lives. Users strictly control social identity information, trying to limit access to their personal data such as photos, addresses and phone numbers. Their main concern is that they do not want this data to be reassembled in public on the internet. They want to be assured that only those they select as ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ have access to the information.

The research revealed that there are contexts, such as career development, where users are willing to make their personal information more widely available. With services such as LinkedIn now used by over four million Australians, a third type of digital identity—the professional identity—appears to be emerging.

Ramifications for providers of online services

Do customers really know why you need their information?

Customers are more inclined to provide you with accurate personal information when they understand why the information is needed. You need to carefully consider why each piece of personal information is required, and communicate this clearly and succinctly.

Your customer data may be less valuable than you think

Some consumers prefer not to give you their real name if they don’t have to. It’s called ‘pseudonymity’. This means that the data you collect about them may be less valuable than you hoped. Consider whether your business needs to identify all its customers using their ‘real’ name.

You need to balance security and privacy

You need to consider whether improved security is introduced at the expense of customer privacy.

Improve your communication

You need to consider how best to communicate how you handle personal data. The more consumers understand how their personal data is used, the more they are inclined to trust you.

Disclose data breaches

Consider the value of openly disclosing a malicious or unintended breach of data security—consumers value transparency.

Help consumers to choose consciously

Australians want to be equipped with information which enables them to make thoughtful and informed choices when they are online. This research shows the importance to Australians of transparent and easy-to-use information about privacy and security. See www.cybersmart.gov.au/digitalcitizens for more information and resources.


Last updated: 10 April 2014