SecurityBrief New Zealand - Technology news for CISOs & cybersecurity decision-makers
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Are they listening? Kiwis wary of smart devices
Mon, 2nd Sep 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

New Zealanders are concerned their smart devices are listening in on their conversations, fearing organisations are extracting personal information from their digital footprints, according to new research from Unisys.

The latest Unisys Security Index has found 40% of New Zealand smart device owners say they started receiving social media posts and ads about a topic they had recently talked about aloud, and almost two-thirds of this group say it concerns them.

Just over a quarter (26%) report that while talking aloud, the virtual assistant in their smartphone or smart watch asked them for more information or to repeat themselves – even though they had not turned it on.

Similarly, 23% say that while talking aloud, a voice-activated, home-based smart speaker had asked them for more information or to repeat themselves – even though they had not turned it on.

In both cases, approximately half of people who experienced this say it concerns them.

“Voice-activated, command-driven digital assistants embedded in smartphones, smart watches or purpose-built devices such as smart speakers are now common," says Richard Amer, director for digital government, Unisys Asia Pacific.

"However, in an environment where New Zealanders are very aware of data security threats, many Kiwis are concerned that their passion for Internet of Things devices has made their personal conversations and activity vulnerable to being monitored and used in ways we did not intend,” he says.

The 2019 Unisys Security Index research also found New Zealanders are selective about which situations they deem acceptable for an organisation to collect data from social media, online purchases, smartphones and wearable devices.

Almost half of respondents (47%) support the government collecting this information to identify who is in the vicinity of a disaster. Yet only 20% support the government monitoring an individual's travel patterns to plan roads and public infrastructure. Nearly four in 10 (38%) support airports and airlines collecting information to efficiently guide a passenger's journey through an airport, but only 10% support an employer doing the same to monitor an employee's location during the workday.

More than a third (36%) of New Zealanders do not support data collection in any of the situations above.

Similarly, public support varies for organisations sharing an individual's personal information with other organisations, Unisys says.

The highest support is for police sharing information with other law enforcement agencies within New Zealand (72%) or internationally (71%) to solve a crime. There is also strong support (67%) for doctors sharing a patient's healthcare history with other healthcare providers the patient uses for a complete view of the individual's health.

Almost half of Kiwis (47%) support a government-administered proof-of-identity used to confirm a citizen's identity to access commercial services such as a bank account. However, only 16% support banks sharing a customer's financial data with another financial service provider to offer a single point of contact for multiple services.

“The top reason given by New Zealanders for not supporting their data being shared is that they want control over exactly who has access to their personal information," says Amer.

"This is a clear concern around privacy, rather than one related to the ability of an organisation to secure the data. If organisations want to gain the public's support to access and use information from their digital footprint, they must address three criteria: trust in the organisation involved, the purpose given for how the data will be used and the benefit to the individual," he explains.

Kiwis take action after data breaches
The research reveals that New Zealanders' high level of concern about data security puts organisations on notice that they risk not just losing data, but also losing business.

More than a quarter (28%) of New Zealanders say they experienced a data breach in the last year. The most common types of breaches were email hacking (8%) and various forms of identity theft: social media profile hijacked (7%), credit card details stolen (6%) and suspicious behaviour in their bank account (6%).

Many Kiwis took action against the organisations they hold responsible for not protecting their data against data breaches. Of those who suffered a data breach, 14% said they stopped dealing with the organisation, such as closing their account, 11% publicly exposed the issue via social media and 7% took legal action.

“Many Kiwis are taking action designed to hurt the organisation they trusted to hold their information as they hold the business or government agency responsible for not protecting their data," says Amer.

"Closing accounts and public shaming drives customer loss and reputation damage – it's a deliberate move by consumers to make their concerns heard. To build trust and public support, government and commercial entities must show they take these concerns seriously not only by securing data from attack, but also how in they use that data themselves,” he explains.