Australians grow like Topsy online

Personalities become immersed in the Internet

Australians typically have more than 10 online profiles or "virtual identities", according to a survey by Symantec. Interestingly, 20 per cent of Australians believed that their online profile was closer to their true self, than their physical or real-world identities.

The Identity Survey conducted by Woolcott Research on behalf of Symantec, examined whether Australians are increasingly defining themselves through their virtual identities.

Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller said the findings reflected the evolving behaviour of a new generation of people who are more comfortable with their online identities, lives, and relationships than they are with their real-world friends or even themselves. "We have been aware that young people have actively been redefining what friendship means through online interactions. This survey shows us this is not just restricted to young people, or even digital natives.

"Seventeen per cent of Australian online power users believed their online profile was more about who they would like to be, rather than who they really were. This finding clearly shows it's not just friendship or peer networks that are being redefined but also your own sense of who you are," Fuller said.

In addition to the issue of identity, the survey also showed that people liked the relative anonymity of the Internet, potentially encouraging them to be more open, but also exposing them to more risk.

Based on the survey findings, two-thirds of Australians say they are more likely to share personal information with other people on the Internet than they would in person. However, the same figure (66 per cent of respondents) also believed most people do not think about the possible consequences of posting personal information online.

"One of the odd findings is that people can be fully aware of the dangers of identity theft online and still act in ways that place them at risk," said. Fuller. "This is largely because the more ubiquitous and necessary a product or technology becomes, the easier it is to ignore even well-known risks associated with it. This phenomenon is known as risk denial."

The survey found 54 per cent of Australians provided three or more types of personal details online to sites such as blogs, social networking sites, shopping, or auction sites. Other key findings within this category included:

  • 63 per cent of Australians have revealed their real name online and a third also admitted to revealing their home address online
  • 29 per cent of respondents have provided their bank details or credit card numbers to non-banking Web sites

Len Rust is publisher of The Rust Report.

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