Snapshot of a dilemma: The competing costs of privacy 

  • By Graham Sowden, General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan, Okta

A RECENT survey conducted by Okta across 6 countries, including Australia, reveals a deepening online ‘identity crisis’. Here we share key findings with you. The numbers are stark and the story they tell is important for anyone planning and implementing the security and privacy policies of their organisation.

A major take-away from the survey is that people across the world weigh privacy above any and all potential uses of their data, even when it is for the public good as in the case of combating a global pandemic. Yet this is set in disturbing contrast to a blissful lack of awareness of the extent to which their own personal data is tracked and collected to build their online identity.

Ignorance is not bliss: the gap in consumer awareness

Despite high profile cases like Cambridge Analytica putting privacy in the headlines, our data shows that many consumers are still not aware of the scale of routine tracking and data harvesting that takes place. Out of 13 types of commonly tracked data, the average survey respondent believes less than half (only 6) of these are used in constructing their online identity.

73% of Australians, for example, don’t believe streaming services are collecting information about their online media consumption. 80% don’t think their broadband provider does either. 39% of Australians do not think online retailers collect data about their purchase history, and 45% do not think their social media posts are being tracked. 

Yet our consumers tell us very clearly that privacy is of utmost concern to them, and this is illustrated no better than in the midst of a pandemic.

Privacy trumps pandemic

COVID-19 has certainly raised the profile of data tracking as governments have reached for technology to help trace and contain outbreaks. But it has also accelerated public concerns about privacy.

Trust, or lack thereof, is a big part of the problem: 74% of Australians worry data collection for COVID-19 containment will sacrifice too much of their privacy and 79% worry their data will be used for purposes other than COVID-19. 

Many respondents also doubt the effectiveness of such data tracking. 54% of Americans said they believe it is not effective, while only 10% believe it is very effective. Australians emerged as the most optimistic, with 62% believing in the efficacy of smartphone tracking.

Indeed, COVID-19 may be closing the education gap, especially in Australia. An impressive 96% of Australians are aware of efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 through smartphone data collection and 29% say the pandemic has made them more aware of data tracking efforts as well as their potential benefits.

For governments a question of distrust

Outside of the US, respondents are largely happy with how their governments are responding to COVID-19. In Australia, for example, 87% think their government’s response has been effective.

Yet 65% of Australians are uncomfortable with government tracking their data. Only 28% of Australian respondents are willing to share their data to help law enforcement. When it comes to the pandemic, 30% of Australians said government involvement makes them less comfortable with the idea of data tracking. Trust in the government’s ability to safely handle personal data is particularly low, with 70% of Australians saying they have limited to no trust in the government’s ability to do so.

Putting a price on privacy

The cost of privacy can, of course, be measured in many ways. Most of us know the saying, if you aren’t paying for the product then you are the product. Consumers pay with their ‘eyeballs’, their time and by giving up their personal details. 

However, when we asked respondents if they’d be more willing to share data with companies if they were financially compensated, 37% said no. Another 27% were unsure. 76% were unwilling to sell at least some portion of their data. Ultimately, consumers value privacy more than some extra cash.

Could we put a $$ price on personal data?

Even amongst those willing to sell, data doesn’t come cheap. 31% of Australians said they would want $100 or more for their purchase history and 23% said same for their location data. This would challenge even a large company like Facebook. Paying each of their 2.5 billion users $100 in exchange for just their location data comes out at a whopping $250 billion!

An unforeseen cost - could the imperative to secure online identity be taking a toll on democracy itself?

As governments try to reduce cost and improve accessibility, they are increasingly making services available online. Verifying the identity of a visitor is a critical issue when providing access to government records and services. But there is a trade-off between security and usability: if the barrier to entry becomes too high, citizens will abandon the process, and possibly give up on the service entirely.

When we asked respondents to quantify this, the average time spent verifying their identity to online government services was a significant 12 hours per year.


As we migrate to the digital realm, our online identity has become an increasingly robust collection of data about every aspect of our online and offline lives. Identity has become the currency of this new era. So, it is incumbent on us in the wider cybersecurity industry to better understand our organisations most important stakeholders – our citizens and consumers.

Our survey suggests that people around the world have only a vague understanding of how much of their data is being tracked. Yet, despite this lack of awareness, they’re largely uncomfortable with the idea. 

Okta believes it is important to balance privacy and innovation. Consumers deserve to have control over their data, but at the same time, data is often essential to building new technologies and serving the common good. To strike a balance, organisations around the globe must embrace transparency and help their customers understand how their data is being used.

Okta commissioned this survey of over 12,000 people between the ages of 18 and 75 across six countries.

For the full report please click here:

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Graham Sowden: Identity has become the currency of this new era.