Press release

23 Apr. 2021

Half of Australian citizens risk missing out on governments’ digital services boom due to privacy concerns, EY survey warns

Governments pushing ahead with increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to How can digital government connect citizens without leaving the disconnected behind? a new EY survey of 12,100 working age respondents across 12 countries.

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EY Oceania

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

  • 48% of survey respondents say risks outweigh benefits of government sharing their data 
  • 54% likely to use government training schemes to improve digital skills 
  • 63% want a single digital ID for every time you use a government service 

Governments pushing ahead with increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to How can clever governments choose to close the digital divide? a new EY survey of 12,100 working age respondents across 12 countries. 

1000 people were interviewed in Australia as part of the survey. 

Conducted by Ipsos MORI, the survey further reveals a roadmap for governments attempting to deal with the increased digitisation of services brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Over the past year, the pandemic has increased the need for governments to offer more services remotely, and in some cases they have been delivered entirely online. This has resulted in the generation of much larger volumes of citizens’ data which is then collected by governments.  

Almost half of those surveyed in Australia think that privacy and security risks around how their data is shared outweigh the benefits. 

Forty-eight per cent think data should not be shared between the public and private sector, with only 27% saying that it should. 

And 39% think data should not be shared within the public sector, while only 35% believe that it should. 

Trust in Government

  • More than a quarter (28%) of survey participants viewed the National government with a Trust Deficit, and 25% for local government.

  • 64% of respondents said government and public services in Australia were Fairly Effective to Very Effective in using digital technology to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • 48% of respondents are opposed to governments selling their personal data to a private sector company, even where the objective is to fund better public services or tax cuts. (compared to 81% globally) 

  • 63% of respondents support having a single digital ID for every time you use a government service. 

Catherine Friday, EY Oceania Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, says:

“The survey findings should be a wake-up call for governments across the world. 

“The benefits of a more digital state, including increased efficiency, better value for taxpayers and better quality of service for citizens, will be significantly reduced if large segments of the population aren’t convinced of them and are at risk of disengaging from increasingly digitised public services. 

“Many individuals could potentially be alienated, which could quickly become a dangerous problem for citizens, governments and society as a whole. 

“Australians are ahead of their global counterparts on the issue of governments sharing data with either other government agencies or the private sector, but clearly there is some way to go with over half the population objecting.

“People think the government has responded well to COVID restrictions with new digital services, but questions remain about how the emergency roll out of digital services will fare as we enter a new phase with new customer expectations.

“The concern around government handling and storage of citizen data is real and hinges on security and privacy concerns. 

“The demand for government digital services is definitely there as you can see by the desire for single ID, but the lack of trust is a major problem for governments to overcome.”

Trust in Technology

  • 35% found tech/software companies trustworthy, and 27% found them untrustworthy with a majority of respondents finding them to be neither trustworthy or untrustworthy or just not knowing (38%). 

  • 93% of respondents use social media sites regularly. 

While people are broadly comfortable sharing their data with governments to access a service (61%), or the private sector to perform transactions (55%), there was considerably less willingness to share personal data with social networking companies (30%). 

Catherine Friday, EY Oceania Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, says: 

 “We’re seeing high levels of distrust in social media alongside high levels of usage, telling us that what people say today is not necessarily what they do today. However it could be an indication of how they might alter their behaviours and social media usage in future if the core issue of trust isn’t restored by these companies.

“Technology companies in general have a huge opportunity to increase their trust levels with more than a third of respondents (36%) finding them to be currently neither trustworthy or trustworthy. 

“The discomfort with how social networking companies treat the data of their clients is still pervasive in the fact that people are twice as comfortable sharing their data with government and companies for different services and transactions.

“A question mark remains around whether that discomfort translates into changing levels of usage of social media platforms, but it certainly sends a message that social companies would be wise to heed.”

Technological optimism tempered by mistrust

While the survey reflects optimism that technology improves quality of life (according to 68% of respondents), there are significant concerns about its broader impact. Many believe that increased use of technology will potentially widen social inequalities, with 33% stating that technology will lead to greater social inequality and 34% stating that technology gives more power to those who are already rich and powerful.

There are further concerns around the impact of increased reliance on technology as a means for communication on social cohesion. Further, 32% of citizens believe technology will make people feel less connected to their communities. However, demand still exists to further develop people’s digital skills. Fifty six per cent say they would be likely to use government training schemes that improve their digital skills if they were available.  

Catherine Friday, EY Oceania Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, says: 

“Digitisation is here to stay, and during this crisis many have experienced its amazing potential to improve public services, maintain social connections and keep countries working. But there is clearly a long way to go in communicating these benefits to citizens and addressing their concerns. In a more connected world, some of the most vulnerable groups are at risk of becoming more isolated through the loss of physical support networks. Governments should demonstrate that they can be trusted to deliver safe, secure and improved digital services that will benefit all citizens. Just as importantly, they need to bring their citizens with them; access and skills are just as vital as the services being available in the first place.” 

Seven personas that governments must reach

The survey segments respondents into seven personas: Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers, Diligent Strivers, Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders, Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers. These categories offer insights into how governments should consider working with different societal groups. For example, the survey indicates that Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers and Diligent Strivers are more comfortable with sharing 

their data to access a service or perform a transaction online, and with their data being shared. But there is a lack of support among Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders and Passive Outsiders about governments and businesses gaining access to their data.

These personas also give key insights into the perspectives of certain demographics around fundamental issues, such as immigration, climate change and globalisation. 



Press Contact

Garth Montgomery, Ernst & Young Australia



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About the survey

Ipsos MORI conducted online interviews with 12,100 participants of working age across 12 countries (approximately 1,000 per country) globally between July and September 2020. Data have been weighted by age, gender, region and work status to nationally representative profiles.  Countries surveyed included Australia (aged 18-65), Brazil (18-59), France (16-75), Germany (16-75), India (18-50), Japan (18-75), Malaysia (18-65), Mexico (18-59), South Africa (18-65), UAE (18-55), the USA (18-75) and the UK (16-75).  In countries with a relatively low internet penetration, the sample is more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population and the results should be viewed as reflecting the views of a more “connected” population.