Australians primed for a backlash against data free-for-all

As data breaches become the ‘new norm’, the benefits of open-data are being overshadowed by the risks consumers face in protecting their data, with many Australians feeling powerless and uncomfortable about their treatment from companies, technology platforms and e-commerce.

The Consumer Data and Digital Economy report, released today by Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC), has found Australians are not apathetic toward data protection, but feel little control over what data they provide.

Consumer Policy Research Centre CEO, Lauren Solomon, said this combination of factors lays the foundation for a consumer backlash, as Australians look for ways to avoid their data being gathered and used for purposes they had no knowledge of.

“Australian consumers are tired of being forced by corporations to give away their valuable personal data, just to be able to conduct their daily lives. We don’t understand what we’re giving away, or why, and it makes most of us uncomfortable. We are providing a valuable commodity often for little to no return,” Ms Solomon said.

“Unless companies find ways to create a more even value exchange with consumers in the future, eventually everyday Australians will demand policy settings – or adopt new technologies – that limit the ability of companies to hold their private data.”

The report found that 95 per cent of Australians want the ability to ‘opt out of certain data collection practices’, and 92 per cent supported companies being transparent about how their data might be used to assess eligibility for products and services.

At the same time, it is clear from the report that consumers don’t feel they have other options, despite this overwhelming desire for choice and transparency.

“The study showed that 94 per cent of Australians admitted they did not read all the privacy policies that apply to them. And of those who had read at least one Privacy Policy or Terms and Conditions in the past 12 months, two-thirds (67 per cent) indicated that they signed up for products and services even though they did not feel comfortable with the policies,” Ms Solomon said.

“Consumers don’t feel that they have a choice. The most common reason (73 per cent) for accepting privacy policies, despite being uncomfortable with them, is that it was the only way to access the product or service.

“This is why 73 per cent of Australians want Government to ensure companies give consumers options to opt out of providing data, how it can be used and shared with others. If companies won’t behave responsibly with our data, we expect regulators to step in.

“Australians feel uncomfortable sharing personal information about themselves, their friends’ social platforms, location data, browsing history as well as messages and phone contacts with third parties for secondary purposes. Yet that is the kind of information regularly being shared and used by companies, large and small.”

The way companies are using data is often hidden behind privacy policies or vague terminology, meaning consumers have limited visibility of how their data is collected and shared. This can even lead to things like your credit score impacting your eligibility or the price you pay for essential products like gas or electricity.

“Our research demonstrates the need for an economy-wide shift in our outdated privacy and consumer protections to deal with this new digital economy, empowering consumers with choice and visibility of the way their data is collected, used and shared. If the private sector will not self-regulate, I believe that consumers will demand that government steps in,” Ms Solomon said.

The establishment of a Consumer Data Right by the Australian Government is a very welcome move, but it will be voluntary and only for certain types of data. This falls short of protections introduced in jurisdictions such as the EU introducing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California, with the new California Consumer Privacy Act.

“These economy-wide protections enable much greater transparency and things such as the right to erasure or ‘right to be forgotten’, added protection for the processing of children’s data, and greater transparency with initiatives such as clear ‘Do Not Sell My Personal Information’ buttons on websites.

“It’s important to note that this isn’t about shutting down data. Open data can drive huge benefits to consumers and to society. It’s about ensuring that consumers have adequate control and choice. We need to be driving innovation and delivering inclusive, trusted markets at the same time, and making active choices about how we want technology to work – for consumers, our society and our markets.”

The Consumer Data and Digital Economy report made five policy recommendations that can improve consumer outcomes: build consumer trust and confidence to participate in the digital economy; provide consumers with genuine choice and control of data collection, sharing and use; ensure privacy is protected for consumers; provide greater transparency and access to data profiles; and, strengthen regulatory monitoring and intervention powers.

Back to top