Almost half of all Australians admit to providing fake details online to protect their actual details from misuse, according to a study conducted on behalf of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The research report, Digital footprints and identities, was conducted by Taverner Research and in addition to research conducted across nine online forums at the end of last year, surveyed 2509 Australians in March this year.
It found that respondents were generally aware that their personal information could be gathered, but were not aware, specifically, of how it could be used in malicious ways. As expected, the younger the participant, the more likely they were to generally trust privacy controls put in place by websites, but conversely, they were also more likely to provide false information.
"Users, especially younger users, appeared willing to replace anonymity with what might be termed 'pseudonymity'. They would do this by withholding or misstating one or more of their real name, their actual age or date of birth, their email address or their physical address," the report read.
Businesses appear to be failing to inspire confidence in their customers online in this regard. Only one in six respondents said they never felt the need to give inaccurate information. That could cost businesses dearly, with the report stating that one in three respondents said they would simply rather not use a site than have to provide inaccurate information.
While the size and existing reputation of an organisation contributed to customer confidence, there were other more subtle actions that businesses could take to put customers at ease. Using HTTPS (and therefore providing an in-browser padlock symbol), minimising third-party advertising, and evidence of proper grammar and spelling all contributed to raising consumer confidence.
Similarly, a clear understanding of why it was necessary to provide their personal information would serve a business well. However, if businesses thought they could point to their terms and conditions, the report showed that they were mistaken. Only 1 in 10 check the terms and conditions about how their personal information is protected and just 3 in 10 skim over the main points.
"Many participants objected to providing any information unless they could see a need for it, given the nature of the use they were making of the site, service or application. Participants felt that providers simply did not have the right to access some information and that users should have control over how their personal information was used."
Although there are many ways in which businesses can boost consumer confidence, there were plenty of things they could do to further damage their reputation and trust.
At the top of the list of annoyances was losing customer credit card details. Mobile or home phone numbers being passed to telemarketers followed closely behind, along with private photos being posted in the public domain.