Australians accept anti-terrorism surveillance but push back against indiscriminate social-media mining

Australians are much more likely than their regional counterparts to accept the monitoring of social media for terrorist activity but Malaysians are far more likely to accept social-media monitoring for targeted advertising, a survey of attitudes has found.

Conducted by Newspoll, the 2015 Unisys Security Insights: Australia report (download here) found that 79 percent of Australians were comfortable with social media being monitored by third parties for the detection of possible terrorist activities, while just 59 percent of surveyed Malaysians were comfortable with this usage.

New Zealanders were closer to Australia, with 73 percent saying they would not mind if social media were used to look for terrorist activity.

Malaysians were more willing to accept the monitoring of social media in the evaluation of job candidates for positions of trust (65 percent) than Australians (56 percent).

The biggest gap in attitudes, however, came in the use of social-media monitoring for targeted advertising offers: 60 percent of surveyed Malaysians were OK with such activities, compared with 30 percent of New Zealanders and just 27 percent of Australians.

Unisys' analysis of the findings noted that the large volume of social-media data guaranteed users a “sense of anonymity and security” but that this was rapidly being eroded as due to improvements in big-data analytics and related technologies.

“This survey clearly demonstrates that just because the tools and means exist to do data mining of social media data, that doesn't automatically make it acceptable in the eyes of the Australian public,” the analysis notes.

“While Australians are generally supportive of relinquishing some privacy in return for personal safety and national security, that doesn't mean they are willing to overlook privacy concerns for the sake of convenience.”

The percentage of Australians willing to accept monitoring for possible terrorist activity was higher than the percentage of Malaysians accepting it in identifying public issues and concerns (71 percent).

Read more: The week in security: Hackers hack the hackers as Hacking Team falls

Male Australians were more likely (31 percent) to accept targeted advertising than females (22 percent) but gender differences in other surveyed categories were far smaller.

Australians aged over 50 were more willing to accept social-media monitoring than 18 to 34 year olds in every category – ranging from 86 percent versus 76 percent in detecting possible terrorist activity, to 72 percent vs 53 percent in tracking public sentiment about an organisation, to 30 percent supporting the use of social media in targeted advertising versus just 18 percent of 18 to 34 year olds.

Queenslanders (32 percent) were far more accepting of targeted advertising than South Australians (21 percent), while South Australians (84 percent) were more willing to allow social-media monitoring for detecting terrorists than Tasmanians (75 percent).

Authorities continue to grapple with the challenge of how to best monitor online services in an era of increasing diversity of communications services, and the growing use of end-to-end encryption capabilities.

Read more: App on Google Play may have stolen 1 million Facebook passwords

The head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was this month clashing with sceptical US legislators after warning of the dangers of “a world of universal strong encryption”. Calls for encryption back doors have been slammed by no less than Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf and, more recently, a slew of academics that penned an influential thoughtpiece on the issue.

Even as the boundaries of online privacy and surveillance continue to fluctuate, companies must be sure they fall on the side of privacy, Unisys advises – citing the latest survey results as an indication that the Australian public is already suspicious of ancillary uses for social-media data.

“Any organisation that collects and maintains personal information regarding their customers needs to exercise great care in protecting that data against misuse or unauthorised access,” the company's analysis warns.

“This is particularly true when the level of public support suspicion is already high – such as with organisations that mine social network data for non-security related reasons.”

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags social-media miningethical hackinganti-terrorism surveillanceMalaysianssocial mediaprivacyCSO AustraliaNew Zealanders

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