Consumer trust in smart products; balancing innovation and privacy as personal data fuels the fourth industrial revolution

Australians are increasingly connected – through phones, computers and now a range of smart devices, including wearable fitness trackers, smart TVs and voice-activated assistants. Consumer data fuels these products. Exploiting technology’s potential – to save money, use energy more efficiently, provide more proactive healthcare – requires Australians to trust how these devices use their personal information. And right now, they don’t.

Research conducted on behalf of CPRC showed that Australians do not fully understand the information collected about them, and that they want greater transparency and control over how companies collect, share and use this information.

There are reasons to be concerned. Questionable data sharing practices of major organisations continue to emerge at alarming intervals. This month, an ABC investigation uncovered that Quantium, a data science and AI platform, had shared de-identified NAB customer transaction data with Sportsbet to support targeted marketing. At the end of 2018, the New York Times found Facebook user data was accessible for a period by organisations including Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Spotify. Reports are emerging that insurance companies in the US are experimenting with using individual’s social media accounts to calculate insurance quotes. In all these cases, the consumer has not been aware of the data use or given the opportunity to opt-out.

CPRC’s forthcoming report, A Day in the Life, highlights the opaque nature of the data collection ecosystem. Large corporations’ business models are built around the extraction, sharing and amalgamation of users’ personal data. The ‘data exhaust’ of Australians’ daily online interactions is collected and shared to enhance user profiles and enable targeted advertising, and consumers have limited vision or control of that process. Privacy policies can be lengthy and vague, confusing rather than enlightening consumers.

So, what can we do about it? How do we build trust?

Most importantly, we need economy-wide data protections, that recognise consumers are the owners of their personal data and allows them control over the collection, sharing and use of that data.

But we also need market transparency – for government, consumers and industry – so that all participants understand the supply chain. Fit for purpose regulation isn’t possible when governments don’t understand the market. Better business practices are also important. For example, privacy policies could be improved to be clearer, more comprehensible and provide specific information on data sharing practices.

CPRC is a strong supporter of creating a trusted environment for greater sharing and use of consumer data to support innovation. Smart products promise enormous social benefits. But to get the most out of technological development, consumers will need to trust the building blocks – primarily, the sharing, collection and use of their data.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

The CPRC team attended the UN Special Rapporteur consultation in Sydney on 26 & 27th July to provide further policy feedback to help shape the final recommendations of a report due to the UN General Assembly in October 2018.

Professor Joseph Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur for Privacy appointed by the Human Rights Council, is mandated to examine and report back to the Council on prevailing challenges in relation to the right to privacy. He is charged with examining international and national frameworks, national practices and experience, trends, and developments, and making recommendations to ensure its promotion and protection, including in connection with the challenges arising from new technologies.

In October 2017, Professor Cannataci presented the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to the General Assembly of the United Nations, highlighting the challenges of Big Data and Open Data on human rights and privacy. Feedback via submissions concluded in April 2018.

The consultation hosted by the Allen’s Hub at UNSW was to seek further public feedback prior to the finalisation of the report recommendations.

CPRC CEO Lauren Solomon presented findings from CPRC’s Consumer Data & the Digital Economy report, participating on an expert panel with Joanne Yates, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW; David Lacey, ID Care; Delia Rickard, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; and Ed Santow, Australian Human Rights Commission.

One of the key concepts Professor Cannataci highlighted at the session regarding the importance of privacy is the recognition by the Human Rights Council that the “right to privacy can enable the enjoyment of other rights and the free development of an individual’s personality and identity, and an individual’s ability to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life, and noting with concern that violations or abuses of the right to privacy might affect the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association… .”

Something which no doubt only increase in importance and relevance as technology continues to evolve. You can read more about this on Professor Cannataci’s website on privacy and personality.

Call for submissions

Additionally, the UN Special Rapporteur is calling for contributions on ‘Gender Perspectives on Privacy’. This consultation seeks to have a better understanding of privacy as it relates to gender. Submissions are due by 20th September 2018.

Consumer Data and the Digital Economy

CPRC launched its Consumer Data and the Digital Economy report at the query:data conference on July 16. Download a copy of the report here.

CPRC’s latest research on consumer data has shown a clear lack of transparency and choice for consumers on how their data is collected, used and shared. The report highlighted the need for diversity in skills and strategies for developing economy-wide protection and standards for protecting consumer privacy and enabling genuine choice and consent.

Our national conference brought together 120 of Australia’s leading researchers, regulators, advocates and businesses representatives to discuss the evolving consumer policy and practice landscape across the fields of privacy, competition and consumer law, data ethics, machine learning and open data.

Keynote speakers Mr Rod Sims, Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and Mr Ed Santow, Human Rights Commissioner, opened discussing the need to investigate the impacts of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) on market competition, consumer choice, and human rights. Mr Sims delivered some welcome news, noting that the ACCC will be taking a close look at the impact of information asymmetry between platforms and consumers as part of the current Digital Platforms Inquiry.

CPRC Chief Executive Officer, Lauren Solomon then presented key findings from the Consumer Data & the Digital Economy report. Including the opportunities and risks of data collection sharing and use, the implications for policymakers and the importance of interdisciplinary teams working on tech and data projects.

Industry experts from Accenture an ANZ discussed insights on how consumer data could drive innovation in businesses practices for more efficient service delivery. They also reflected on the importance of involving consumers in testing to avoid crossing the wrong side of the ‘creepy or cool’ line in innovation.

In the afternoon, leaders from academia and consumer organisations highlighted the importance of protecting consumer’s right to privacy with the following recommendations:

  • Introduce enforceable Human Rights Act in Australia
  • Embed Privacy by Design in the development of systems and projects
  • Encourage regulators to work with technologists to develop checks in software that would be in line with regulation
  • Provide consumers with options on the collection, use, transfer and deletion of their data
  • Provide guidance on business practices ‘Do’s & Don’ts’
  • Develop principles for transparency and code of ethics for algorithms

CPRC also announced the winner of our $100,000 Research Project Grant to a University of Melbourne consortia who will spend the next year exploring the impact of technology and data collection on consumers, with a particular focus on consumer profiling.

A big thank you to everyone who joined us in person for the event, the rich day of discussions could only have been possible with such diverse expertise and engagement in the room.

For those that missed it you can check out more about the proceedings on Twitter using the hashtag #datadialogue18.

Here is Lauren discussing the report findings with ABC News:

Consumer Data Research Network

To further our work in this important field, CPRC has established the Consumer Data Research Network – a network of Australian researchers working on consumer data issues from across the disciplines including: competition & consumer law, data ethics, privacy, machine learning and consumer behaviour.

If you are a researcher, joining the network is a great way to keep abreast of currently policy reform issues and also opportunities to collaborate with others working in the space.

To register your interest, please contact Senior Research & Policy Officer Phuong Nguyen on

query:data Consumer Data Conference

CPRC’s research shows that Australian consumers want more choice, control and transparency over how their data is being collected and used. Reforms internationally, such as the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU, reflect major attempts to shift the power and control over data to consumers. How we ensure this occurs in Australia, while facilitating innovation and competition, is a critical question for those working in business, the community sector, regulators, policymakers and academia.

Join Australia’s leading researchers, regulators, advocates and businesses to discuss the evolving consumer policy & practice landscape across the fields of privacy, competition and consumer law, data ethics, machine learning and open data.

Book your tickets now  

Consumer data and regulatory reform

Mr Rod Sims
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission


Big Data: A human rights perspective

Mr Ed Santow
Human Rights Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission


Consumer expectations, current practice and the policy landscape

Ms Lauren Solomon
Chief Executive Officer
Consumer Policy Research Centre


Panel 1: Consumer data — Innovation in practice

Innovations in technology and ‘big data’ now enable organisations to collect, analyse and use data in ways that can deliver significant benefits to consumers. Improved consumer experience, more efficient service delivery and investment, along with more relevant recommendations are just a few. Hear from those working at the cutting edge of new technologies that are transforming the consumer landscape:

  • Mr Harshu Deshpande, Managing Director, Custom Development & Open Source Alliance, Accenture

  • Ms Andrea Lau, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Small Multiples, and

  • Mr Nigel Dobson, Banking Services Domain Lead, Digital Banking, ANZ.


Panel 2: I know you can do that with data, but should you?

Consumer data collection, sharing and use practices have evolved dramatically in recent times. Emerging practices have pushed the boundaries of existing protections with privacy, consumer protection and competition frameworks all being tested. How could data ethics, privacy and competition principles be applied to ensure data collection, sharing and use benefits consumers and society? Hear from Australia’s leading academics:

  • Dr Katharine Kemp, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney

  • Prof James Arvanitakis, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research and Graduate Studies), Western Sydney University, and

  • Dr Monique Mann, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow Technology and Regulation, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology.


  • Mr Drew MacRae, Policy & Advocacy Officer, Financial Rights Legal Centre.


Panel 3: Putting consumers in the data driver’s seat

For consumers to reap the benefits of the ‘big data’ economy, transparency and greater control over data collection, sharing and use practices are essential. Empowering consumers with the tools, information and resources they need to make informed choices means building better interfaces, systems and processes. How can policymakers and businesses improve consumer comprehension and control? Hear from experts in the field:

  • Dr Kerry Taylor, Associate Professor, Data Science, Convenor, Postgraduate Programs in Applied Data Analytics, ANU

  • Prof Marcus Foth, Founder and Director of the Urban Informatics Research Lab, Queensland University of Technology, and

  • Dr Suelette Dreyfus, Lecturer, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne.


  • Associate Prof Shanton Chang, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne.


Join us for a cross-sector event with Australia’s best and brightest who have been turning their minds to key questions on data.

Book your tickets now  

Research: Australian consumers ‘soft targets’ in Big Data economy

Australian consumers feel uninformed, unprotected and powerless when it comes to Big Data, new research from Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) has found.

Surveying the digital behaviours of 1004 Australian consumers over the past 12 months, CPRC found that:

  • Only 6% had read the Privacy Policies or Terms and Conditions for all the products they signed up to.
  • Of those who read at least one Privacy Policy; two-thirds accepted terms with which they were uncomfortable. 73% of those who accepted did so because it was the only way to access the product or service.
  • 70% were uncomfortable with basic data, such as purchase histories and location data, being shared. Over 85% opposed personal information, such as phone contacts and messages, being shared.

Consistent with our early adoption of new technologies, Australians are big digital platform users with most respondents reporting use of Google suite (99%), online shopping websites (89%), mobile applications (89%), Facebook (81%), and Flybuys or Everyday Rewards supermarket loyalty cards (78%).

Australians want greater control over how their data is collected, shared and used.

CPRC’s study, conducted by Roy Morgan Research, found that among Australian consumers:

  • 95% wanted companies to provide opt-out options for data collection, while 91% wanted an option for data to be collected only for the purpose of delivering the product or service.

There was also a clear expectation that Governments will intervene to protect consumers:

  • 73% of those surveyed wanted companies to be required by regulation to give consumers opt-out capability over what data they provide, how it can be used, and if it can be shared.
  • 67% expected Government to develop protections to ensure that consumers are not unfairly excluded from essential products or services based on their data and/or profile.

Find the full summary of CPRC research findings here: 

CPRC Chief Executive Officer Lauren Solomon commented:

“Consumers desperately want greater transparency, choice and control over how their data is collected and used. Right now, it’s often a case of, ‘Take it or leave it. Agree to our terms or you get nothing.’ There’s a massive gap between public expectations and current practice.

“We’re seeing growing distrust because consumers feel that they simply have no choice. This lack of control was best characterised by one research participant who said, ‘I just close my eyes and don’t think about it.’ In the Australian digital economy genuine consent still seems like a fiction.”

“There’s a clear expectation for Government to take an active role in helping to protect consumer data. The establishment of a Consumer Data Right in Australia is a good step forward, but this alone is not the solution. A national conversation about how Big Data is fundamentally changing our markets is long overdue.”

National data conference
CPRC will bring together leading researchers, policymakers, regulators, and members of the business and community sectors for the query:data national data conference in Melbourne on 16 July 2018.

This survey of 1004 Australians was conducted for CPRC by Roy Morgan Research from March to April 2018.

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