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Public Attitudes to the Sharing of Personal Information in the Course of Electronic Public Service Provision

We can all assume that openess is "good", that the government should share and that we "know" NZ citizens are happy to provide personal information to the Government ... but is that actually what people think?

Professor Miriam Lips, Dr Elizabeth Eppel, Amanda Cunningham and Virginia Hopkins-Burns from Victoria University of Wellington have recently published their findings of their research paper entitled, "Public Attitudes to the Sharing of Personal Information in the Course of Electronic Public Service Provision".

The summary (view on web | PDF) states:
Our research findings demonstrate that the majority of participants had a benign view of information sharing intentions and practice in the New Zealand public sector. Generally, the participants in this study had a high trust in the New Zealand government and its agencies and thought that they are working in the best interests of citizens. Exceptions could be found among participants with a high dependency on social services; Māori; Pasifika; and self-employed participants.

That's probably how I'd feel about it - yeah, share away if it helps reduce the costs, mean I don't have to enter the same info twice (thrice, many+) and generally gets me a "better" service.

I was fascinated by the line "participants showed limited knowledge about the sharing - or non-sharing - of information between agencies." though and suspect it is a reflection of the wider perception a lot of us web-types have of the general populace which is, "They don't really get what the web companies are doing with their information". Of course a lot of you know how I am against using Facebook because of the ever changing default privacy settings of "share this" not being widely understood by their users. People just don't seem to understand that data flows.

I whole heartedly support those that expressed an "unease" with sharing private information (whatever that actually is) when the context was unclear - in a nutshell, what are you going to do with this? A simple question that, when data flows, can be a very difficult one to answer especially in this era of "once the data is set free who knows what amazing uses it can be put to" and I'm not suggesting it is set free from the boundaries of the Government but merely within and between the agencies.

Openness, when it comes down to it is a matter of trust. This is not new and applies to every interaction we have when we "set free" a piece of information be that by telling something in confidence, sending an email to a colleague or passing over something to a Government agency. The trust is that the value, to me, of passing the information to you is higher than the risk, perceived by me, that it will be misused.

And when it comes down to it that trust judgement being made is binary - I either trust you, or I don't.

The question then comes, how can I make that judgement for the future value of the information.
What I value today might be worthless, tomorrow might suddenly be worth a lot more. What's the decision to be made ... ?

Read the full report online (using Google Docs viewer) or download the PDF.

And for those that care (you ALL should) how they performed the research:
The research methods used in this project were a review of available international and national
research in the field, semi-structured interviews with IR staff about the conditions and future directions of online integrated public service provision, and ten intensive focus group meetings with different members of the general public and across New Zealand, in May – June 2010. In total, 63 individuals participated in the focus groups. The focus group meetings were prepared and conducted in partnership with Colmar Brunton. For further information on the research design including the limitations of this research, the analytical framework developed for this project, and characteristics of the focus group participants and discussions, please see chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the full report. A detailed description of the research findings can be found in chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the full report.