Online digital disguises | ACMA

Online digital disguises

New research released today suggests almost half of Australians (47 per cent) admit to giving false personal details to online sites.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Digital footprints and identities research report indicates that Australians have three distinct online ‘identities’:

  • a ‘social identity’—used for social networking and often including photos and other personal data that is shared with their online communities
  • a ‘transactional identity’—the minimum identity information required by financial institutions, insurance companies, online retailers or government agencies to complete a specific task
  • a ‘professional identity’—a positive picture of one’s skills, experience or business offering.

‘This research suggests Australians balance the rewards and risks of engaging in the online world and are putting some considerable thought into the construction of their digital identities. With personal data becoming a key asset in the digital economy, protecting against unwanted intrusions, embarrassment and financial loss is crucial to how individuals successfully manage their online interactions,’ said ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman.

Some Australians respond to unwelcome demands for online information by going to another service. But a significant number (47 per cent)—rising to 64 per cent of those aged 18 to 24—adopt a digital disguise by providing inaccurate or misleading information about themselves, effectively relying on anonymity and pseudonymity for protection.

The report also indicates that most of us (65 per cent) are managing between five and 50 login and password combinations for day-to-day online activities; however, and not surprisingly, half of us (51 per cent) sometimes have difficulty managing these. The research also suggests that Australians want to know more about why and how their personal information will be used, while almost half agree they are primarily responsible for protecting their online identity data.

‘Just as in the physical world, Australians want control over the way they share information about who they are and what they do online,’ said Mr Chapman.

There are a number of strategies to help Australians take control of their online identities including conducting a personal identity audit and consider using Privacy Enhancing tools (PETs) such as digital key-chains and password vaults. These are discussed in Managing your digital identity, also released today, the first of three short reports that drill down on the specific research findings. 

Backgrounder

The Digital footprints and identities research is a product of researchacma, the ACMA’s program that identifies communications and media matters of continuing significance to society, markets and government. This particular research aims to understand the behaviours and attitudes relevant to the creation, use and management of an individual’s digital identity; the management of digital information online; and what makes an individual willing to provide personal information online.

The two reports released today about digital footprints and identities are:

  • Digital footprints and identities—Community attitudinal research report: A detailed report of the qualitative and quantitative research undertaken by Taverner Research.
  • Managing your digital identity—Digital footprints and identities research, Short report 1: Looks at strategies available to Australians to manage their digital identities.
  • The two remaining papers in the series, to be published over the coming week, will discuss further details on the research:
  • Sharing digital identity—Digital footprints and identities research, Short report : Focuses on the implications of consumer online behaviour and attitudes for service providers.
  • Identity and responsibility—Digital footprints and identities research, Short report 3: Looks at Australians’ expectations about responsibility for managing personal data.

These four reports also contribute to the ACMA’s research program on digital society to identify the regulatory settings and interventions that help citizens protect their personal information and digital data in an information economy.

researchacma has five broad areas of interest:

  • market developments
  • media content and culture
  • digital society
  • citizen and consumer safeguards
  • regulatory practice and design.

All the ACMA’s research publications will be on the ACMA website

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.

Media release 86/2013 - 13 November

Last updated: 13 November 2013