Posted: 01 Nov. 2021 20 min. read

Digital Consumer Trends - Post-pandemic privacy

A snapshot

As we emerge from the pandemic, habits such as scanning QR codes and sharing vaccination status have made Australians more aware of their personal data, who it is shared with and how it is used. Whilst the level of concern over how businesses use consumer data has reduced from its highest point in 2018, many Australians still sit within the paradox of not knowing if the utility they receive from sharing their data outweighs their data privacy concerns.

  1. Three quarters (73%) of respondents who believe that companies use their personal data feel concerned about the way it is used.
  2. Overall, two in three applicable respondents are willing to share proof of vaccination status with workplaces, entertainment facilities, event providers and holiday companies meaning one in three Australians are either not willing to share their vaccination status (17%) or are undecided (14%).
  3. One in three (32%) respondents stopped using social media platforms in the last 12 months, of which almost half say they stopped using them permanently. Of the respondents that stopped using social media platforms, 28% of them cited privacy concerns as a reason for quitting.

In the context of changes to the Privacy Act expected in the next 12-18 months we look at consumer attitudes to data privacy, how consumers are evolving their data sharing habits and the implications for businesses.

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Post-pandemic privacy

Australian consumers have never been more aware of the use of their personal data by the companies they interact with. This perhaps isn’t surprising given that in the last 12 months many Australians have happily scanned a QR code to enter stores and workplaces. However, in a post-pandemic world will consumers continue to be willing to share their information with businesses and organisations they interact with to the same degree or will we see a trend to a more considered sharing of personal data?

Some consumers certainly see the benefits of sharing their data such as better personalisation of information and advertising. At the same time, there is evidence of self-regulation of data sharing through selective permissions in apps (e.g. access to contacts, locations) or even consumers cancelling a service/platform subscription because of privacy concerns. These evolving attitudes, mixed with expected updates to the Australian Privacy Act in the next 12-18 months, make for an absorbing start to the world of post-pandemic privacy.

The privacy paradox 2.0 

Australians are more aware than ever before that their personal data is used by companies. 85% of respondents believe that the companies they interact with are using their personal data, up from a steady 80% over the last 3 years. A number of factors might be at play including a greater level of tech literacy in the population as a result of the pandemic as evidenced by a decline in the number of respondents who were unsure if companies used their personal data or not.

Do you believe that the companies you interact with online use your personal data?

(Base: All adults 18-75 who have a phone or smartphone)

Despite awareness of the use of personal data increasing, the level of concern around companies using personal data is trending down. Seventy three percent of respondents who believe companies use their personal data are concerned about privacy, which has declined from 78% in 2020. The level of concern Australians have about their data being shared is also softening. Since 2018, those who were ‘very concerned’, has decreased by 24%, while those who are ‘fairly concerned’ has jumped by 14%. Age is a factor. Younger generations are less likely to be concerned with data privacy, with 60% of 18-24s feeling some level of concern, compared with 77% of 65-75s.

To what extent, if at all, would you say you are concerned about how companies you interact with online use your personal data?

(Base: All adults 18-75 who think companies use their personal data)

While most respondents remain worried about the use of their personal data, they do acknowledge the benefits associated with this usage, such as personalised advertising, tailored digital experiences and increased freedoms. One in three (29%) smartphone owners prefer the personalisation that comes from tailored ads, compared to 26% preferring untailored ads. Personalised digital experiences are most preferred by a younger demographic, with a preference for tailored ads more than twice as popular among respondents aged 18-24 (37%) compared to those aged 65-75 (17%).

As consumers become increasingly reliant on digital experiences, the expectation that those experiences are seamless and personalised are also likely to increase. It is critical that businesses can find a balance between addressing the privacy concerns of consumers, while also capturing the data required to enable exceptional digital experiences in a post pandemic world.

Vaccine passports to open borders?

COVID-19 has continued to normalise behaviours around sharing data, with most people willing to cooperate if it means achieving positive health outcomes or expedites a return to normality. QR code scanning at public locations via government apps was quickly accepted as a short-term solution in all states and territories, allowing Australians to return to a ‘normal lifestyle.’

Overall, two in three applicable respondents are willing to share proof of vaccination status with workplaces, entertainment facilities, event providers and holiday companies. However, this still leaves one in three Australians who are either not willing to share their vaccination status (17%) or are currently undecided (14%). Respondents were most likely to share proof of vaccination status with their employer (69%) but least likely to share proof of vaccination status with entertainment facilities (62%).

I would share proof of my COVID-19 vaccination status via an app if I was asked to do so by the following:

(Base: All applicable adults 18-75)

Australians’ attitudes to sharing their vaccination status differ based on age, with older respondents being the most willing to share. This demonstrates that although older generations are typically more concerned about the use of their data more generally, they are less perturbed by sharing health data, most likely due to health concerns associated with age. Interestingly, it is the younger generations that are more hesitant when it comes to sharing their vaccination status and are more likely to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach before forming a view.

Globally, perceptions around sharing vaccination status differ. Applicable respondents from the United Kingdom were more willing to share vaccination status with employers or businesses than Australian respondents by an average of 5-10 percent. It is unclear whether the stage of reopening impacts this perception. As hard lockdowns diminish and a post-pandemic world emerges, Australians’ willingness to share their vaccination status may increase.

While early signs from the New South Wales experience suggest that the broader Australian population will be willing to share vaccination status in return for freedoms, questions remain; to what extent and for how long this will remain the case if privacy concerns come back into focus?

I would share proof of my COVID-19 vaccination status via an app if I was asked to do so by the following:

(All applicable adults 18-75 that ‘Agreed’)

UK data sourced from 2021 Deloitte UK Digital Consumer Trends Survey, excluding respondents that identified themselves as ‘not applicable’.

Privacy: the influencer to watch 

There are a range of tools available to help protect consumers who are concerned about privacy and the use of their data. However, despite 73% of respondents being concerned about privacy, uptake of these tools is still low. Only 36% of respondents have ever used a privacy first web browsing tool (such as DuckDuckGo) to limit ad tracking, and only 8% of respondents use them consistently. When installing new apps, 54% of respondents restrict the level of access requested by refusing permissions more than half of the time. Although older age groups have the greatest privacy concerns, contradicting behaviours around accepting and rejecting app permissions highlight a potential gap in digital literacy. However, it is not just the older demographic who are stumped on how to protect their privacy, despite wanting to. Responses across all demographics suggest that consumers are not motivated enough to take action or are not educated on the tools available and how to use them.

This lack of consistency amongst business’ approach to privacy as well as consumer need has led the government to consider additional protections through updates to the Privacy Act. Whilst still in draft format, changes are expected to better protect consumers (particularly children). The government will also investigate how consent is obtained and the mechanisms around the collection and usage of personal data.[i]

How often do you refuse app permissions (giving access to photos, content, etc.)

 (All adults 18-75 who have a phone or smartphone)

Although regulation is one driver for companies to pay closer attention to privacy, a potentially greater concern is consumer willingness to ‘switch off.’ Our respondents have demonstrated that they are willing to avoid or end relationships with products, platforms and services that do not meet their expectations. One example of this can be seen within social medial platforms. Thirty two percent of respondents have ceased using a social media platform in the last 12 months, with almost half halting use of the platform permanently. Of those who ceased using a social media platform in the last 12 months, 28% cited privacy concerns as a contributing factor in this decision. ‘Switching off’ services, is one consequence of businesses failing to provide consumers with the confidence that their data is kept private and protected.

To combat this risk, and in anticipation of the predicted increase in regulatory requirements, there are several things businesses can proactively do. Developing smarter consent strategies, allowing consumers to maintain more opt-in control over data usage and user-friendly consent management are just some examples of this.[i]

You said that you stopped using social media platforms temporarily or permanently. What was the reason for that? (Base: All adults 18-75 who have stopped using social media in the last 12 months)

The Bottom Line

The pandemic has led to heightened awareness around the use of consumer personal data. Although some consumers can see the potential personalisation benefits that come with this data usage, many still sit within the paradox of not knowing if the utility they receive from sharing their data outweighs their privacy concerns. Although many people are becoming increasingly comfortable sharing personal information to live a normal life, it remains to be seen for how long this level of comfort will continue. Although there are a range of tools available for consumers to self-regulate the data they share, there is acknowledgement by the government that this is not sufficient and further regulation is required to properly protect consumers. The next 12-18 months will be critical for businesses to build and maintain trust with customers as we determine whether enough is being done to enable consumers to control their privacy in a post-pandemic world. 

Unless otherwise referenced, the statistics in our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends articles are based on a survey commissioned by Deloitte Australia. It involved a representative sample of 2,000 Australians aged between 18-75 and was conducted in late July 2021, at a time when Australia's second wave of Delta cases was on the rise and restrictions were being introduced and changed every few days across NSW, VIC, QLD & SA. Numbers have been rounded for ease of comparison.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms, and their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organisation”). DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) and each of its member firms and related entities are legally separate and independent entities, which cannot obligate or bind each other in respect of third parties. DTTL and each DTTL member firm and related entity is liable only for its own acts and omissions, and not those of each other. DTTL does not provide services to clients. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more.

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[i] Deloitte Australia Privacy Index, 2020, deloitte-au-risk-australian-privacy-index-2020.pdf, https://www.ag.gov.au/integrity/consultations/review-privacy-act-1988

More about the authors

Peter Corbett

Peter Corbett

Partner, Consulting

Peter is the National Telecommunications leader and the Sydney leader of Monitor Deloitte in Deloitte’s Consulting practice. Peter has over 10 years’ experience in the development and execution of corporate/business unit strategy, digital strategy and transformation, channel strategy, strategic due diligence, customer experience/service design and operating model design for leading multinationals. Peter works at the links between strategy, operations, technology, creative design and innovation. His career experiences include successfully implementing complex transformations following a new strategy, as well as developing new businesses that disrupt traditional industries through business model innovation. He has delivered this type of work in US/Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

Piya Shedden

Piya Shedden

Director, Risk Advisory

Piya is a Director in the Deloitte Australia Cyber Risk Advisory team, focusing on providing holistic data protection and privacy solutions. Over 10 years, Piya has worked with clients across the Financial Services, Government and Technology industries, with the key motivation to identify, classify and protect personal and sensitive organisational data through its lifecycle. Piya maintains a focus and passion for helping organisations achieve meaningful data security and privacy improvement, emphasising practicality and longer-term sustainability of operating models, processes, reporting and controls. Many of his engagements have required detailed analysis and rationalisation of regulatory obligations and the development of privacy and data security frameworks, policies, processes and controls across the Asia-Pacific region. Piya holds a PhD in data asset identification and cyber risk assessment and has taught cyber security concepts at the University of Melbourne for over 18 years.

Scarlett Armstrong

Scarlett Armstrong

Consultant, Monitor Deloitte

Scarlett is a Consultant in the Monitor Deloitte strategy practice. She has experience designing and delivering solutions to complex problems for organisations navigating through disruption, transformation or emerging growth opportunities. She has advised clients in development of corporate and business unit strategy, market entry strategy and operating model design.