CPRC Research Project Grants 18/19 – Expressions of Interest now open!

Research Project Grants ($100,000)

CPRC’s Research Project Grants have been established to facilitate evidence-based and interdisciplinary research within significant and emerging topic areas determined annually by CPRC.

In 2018/19, CPRC welcomes Expressions of Interest from research teams investigating the following research areas:

Choice for older Australians in consumer markets ($50,000)

Older Australians often experience a number of barriers to accessing, assessing and acting on information about products and services. With a rising number of companies shifting to online communications, comparisons and support information, this can present significant challenges for older consumers who may be digitally excluded, or are experiencing major and stressful life-changes.

To complement CPRC’s own internal research, we are dedicating a research grant for a field experiment from a consortium of researchers exploring the lived experience of older Australian consumers in exercising choice in product and service markets.

CPRC is seeking Expressions of Interest for projects that develop a statistically significant, evidence-based analysis of the barriers and challenges for older Australians in exercising choice. The project could be across several markets or focused on one single market. The quantification and articulation of the impact of consumer interactions with information, platforms, intermediaries, products or providers will be central to the project. Supplementary analysis around policy and regulatory implications is also welcome.

Information disclosure in the housing market ($50,000)

Housing is the single biggest share of wallet expenditure item for Australian households. While other product and service markets have undergone reform to product disclosure information, housing remains one sector where consumers are not afforded these higher levels of transparency.

CPRC seeks Expressions of Interest from research teams exploring information disclosure and informed choice in housing markets (this could be across a range of tenure types).

Projects may explore legal and policy frameworks locally and internationally, what sorts of information consumers want and need when it comes to housing options, or how the presentation of this information may influence choice and decision-making.

Key dates:
Expressions of Interest close – 21st December 2018.
Invitations for full Project Grant application – January 2018.
Full Project Grant applications close – Feb 2019.
Project Grant awarded – March 2019.

Download the Expressions of Interest pack here.

 

More on CPRC Research Pathways Program: 

CPRC’s annual $220,000 Research Pathways Program is comprised of:

  • $100,000 Research Project Grants (now open)
  • $100,000 Partnership Pathways (opening soon – November 2018)
  • $20,000 Higher Education Essay Prize (opening early 2019)

New energy information and resources for community workers

The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has engaged CPRC to deliver a project to assist community workers supporting households experiencing difficulties with their energy bills.

The project recognises that community workers are on the front line when households struggle with the cost of their energy bills. Our goal is to ensure community workers have access to practical, relevant, up-to-date energy information materials for their work helping households to better understand, manage and gain confidence with their bills.

The project will run to September 2019 and has three parts:

  • Benchmarking the energy information needs of workers across the community sector
  • Developing energy information materials and resources to support community workers in their work with clients
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the new materials and resources and whether they meet the needs of community workers

If you work in the community sector, we’d like to hear from you!

CPRC is conducting interviews and surveys throughout November and December with community workers to ensure we understand the sorts of information & resources that would be of most assistance.

To participate in the interview and go in the draw to win a $100 voucher, please contact Research & Engagement Manager, Karl Barratt on karl.barratt@cprc.org.au or 9639 7600.

The Human Rights and Technology Conference

The CPRC team continued the data dialogue on July 24 at the Human Rights and Technology Conference with a focus on the impact of technology on society and human rights.

With the unprecedented rate of data collection, use of Big Data, and adoption of artificial intelligence, we are at the dawn of what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution. Ensuring we consider the evolution of technology and its intersection with many fields — competition and consumer law, privacy, human rights and ethics — will be central to us collectively understanding policy reform challenges.

Mr Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner opened the conference reflecting on rising “dual use technology” and the potential for technology to deliver significant benefits whilst also presenting risks for harm.

A simple analogy of “dual use technology” Mr Santow explained, is a kitchen knife where it’s primary use is benign, but it can definitely be re-purposed for harm. The focus of the day was to identify the challenges, to ensure we are managing emerging risk and to facilitate responsible innovation. “We should pursue innovation that reflects our values” Mr Santow said.

One of the major highlights of the conference was the panel “Inclusion Riders: people with disabilities and technology”, which reminded us of the significant impact technology can have on people’s lives.

Emma Bennison, Executive Officer of Blind Citizens Australia shared her experience of using AI technology such as Aira and be my eyes which she described as providing liberation to do things “on your terms and in your timeframe” as a person with visual impairment.

However, she cautioned that these services should not relied on by businesses and advocates to then cease creating or advocating for inclusive technology for people with disabilities.

Alastair McEwin, Disability Discrimination Commissioner further urged that products need to be tested widely to capture different disability experiences.

This point was echoed by Manisha Amin, CEO of Centre for Inclusive Design, who implored businesses to “think slow to think fast” as remediation to address problems after the fact rather than early testing can cost businesses ten times as much. We couldn’t agree more.

Throughout the day there were case studies of the problems AI presented regarding the over-reliance of historical data, transparency, bias, and discrimination. How we choose to use these technologies and put in place measures to address these problems will be critically important over the coming years.

As the conference came to an end, we were asked to reflect on “What kind of society do we want to be?” where Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, outlined some potential guiding principles as we enter the fourth industrial revolution: Security, Responsibility, Integrity, Inclusivity, & Humanity.

Call for submissions

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released an Issues Paper, conducting a deep exploration on human rights and technology in their major project. They are calling for submissions by October 2.

Report: Consumer data & the digital economy

 

Australians are spending more of their lives online. 87% were active internet users in 2017, more than 17 million use social networking sites, and 84% of Australians are now buying products online.

Big Data is big business. In 2018 alone, revenue from the Big Data software market was estimated at $42 billion.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation now provides EU consumers with new protections including greater transparency and control of data being collected about them by companies.

In Australia, consultation is currently underway to establish a Consumer Data Right, an optional right for consumers to gain access to portability of their data. While a step in the right direction, it currently falls short of economy- wide protections for Australian consumers whose data is being collected, shared and used on a daily basis.

Ensuring that we strike the right balance is crucial. For consumers to benefit, policy settings need to drive innovation, enhance competition, protect human rights and the right to privacy and, ultimately, enable genuine consumer choice.

Read the Full Report

Read the Summary Report

        * (updated at 12:00pm, 17 July 2018)

SNAPSHOT OF KEY FINDINGS

  • Ninety-five per cent wanted companies to give options to opt out of certain types of information collected about them, how it can be used and/or what can be shared with others
  • Ninety-one per cent agreed that companies should only collect the information currently needed to provide the service
  • When asked ‘what data/information would you be uncomfortable with companies sharing with third parties for purposes other than delivering the product or service’, the four highest- ranking answers were:
    • Phone contacts (87 per cent)
    • Your messages (86 per cent)
    • Device ID (84 per cent)
    • Phone number (80 per cent)
  • Of the Australians surveyed who reported reading a Privacy Policy or Terms and Conditions for one or more services/products in the past 12 months:
  • Two- thirds (67 per cent) indicated that they still signed up for one or more products even though they did not feel comfortable
  • The most common reason (73 per cent) for accepting privacy policies with which consumers were not comfortable was that it was the only way to access the product or service
  • Consumers surveyed found it unacceptable for companies to:
    • Charge different consumers different prices based on their (data) profile (88 per cent)
    • Collect data about them without their knowledge to assess eligibility or exclude from a loan or insurance (87 per cent)
    • Use payment behaviour data to exclude from certain essential products and services (82 per cent)
  • Seventy-three per cent believe Government should ensure companies give consumers options to opt out of what data they provide, how it can be used and if it can be shared
  • Sixty-seven per cent believe Government should develop protections to ensure consumers are not unfairly excluded from essential products or services based on the data or profile.

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

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.

Operation of an Energy Comparator Code of Conduct

With significant growth in the use of comparator websites, the former Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre (CUAC) developed the Energy Comparator Code of Conduct (ECCC) to improve the practices of online comparators and their presentation of offers.

Effective comparator websites can play an important function within the energy market, to enhance consumer decision-making, enable simpler comparisons of products and services, and switching.

In a recent study commissioned by the Australian Energy Market Commission, about a third of residential energy customers surveyed said that they had considered changing their provider last year. Half of those considered or used energy comparison websites, with customers showing the capacity to identify key market players.[1]

Informed by this, the CUAC developed the ECCC in collaboration with energy retailers, comparators, consumer advocates and policymakers. There are currently nine signatories to the ECCC, while other comparators have also expressed interest in joining.

CPRC is committed to the outcomes of the ECCC spearheaded by the CUAC, and the extent to which the Code meets policy objectives.

The next phase of this project is developing a governance framework that allows for the monitoring of signatory comparators to ensure the ECCC meets the intended objectives.

Sales Assured Limited (SAL), with their long-term involvement with industry codes and monitoring of door to door sales in the energy market has agreed to provide the administration and monitoring functions of the Code.

CPRC and SAL are now consulting with all ECCC signatories and retailers to seek agreement to the framework. We expect that this will be completed in early 2018.

In the interim, if you are interested in this project or would like more information please contact Senior Research & Policy Officer, Damian Bye on damian.bye@cprc.org.au.

 

 

[1] Newgate Research, Consumer research for the Australian Energy Market Commission’s 2017 Retail Competition Review, Final Report April 2017, p24

Improving consumer decision-making and engagement

CPRC is currently investigating product choice and the decision-making process for consumers across a range of markets, considering information disclosure, barriers for vulnerable consumers, making comparisons and the switching process. A range of remedies are also explored in application both locally and internationally.

Complexity, disengagement and inertia have all been concerns raised with regards to the experience of consumers making decisions and comparisons about products and services.

The effective operation of consumer markets relies on consumers comprehending the options presented to them, and making an informed decisions about which one best suits their preferences.

Reform internationally has better incorporated the fields of behavioural economics, understanding that the power of framing, defaults and ordering significantly influence consumer outcomes.

We aim to release this report in early 2018. This piece of work, we hope, will contribute to building a stronger knowledge base around demand-side engagement in Australia. In particular, it will highlight the steps that businesses, policymakers and regulators can take to improve the consumer experience, enhance decision-making, reduce exclusion, and build trust in the operation of our consumer markets.

A message from our Chair

At a pivotal point in its history, I’m delighted to join CPRC as Board Chair.

Representing consumers and helping them secure fair outcomes in the marketplace has always been central to my work – at Financial Ombudsman Service in the UK, the Consumers Federation of Australia, or in my current role as Independent Customer Advocate at NAB – which is why I’m passionate about the work the CPRC does.

The expansion of CPRC’s remit to produce high-impact research to drive robust, but considered policy engagement across a broader spectrum of markets is both timely and much needed to drive practice and policy change.

The operations of markets, as we understand them, are undergoing profound changes. With the advent of the digital revolution and the accompanying ‘big data’ phenomenon, we’ve seen an explosion of choice in the goods and services available to consumers, albeit often with a catch.

Businesses now collect unprecedented amounts of information on almost every aspect of our behaviour as consumers, and some probably know more about us than our friends or family.

While some aspects of data collection and consumer profiling can improve our consumer experience – think Netflix and Spotify recommendations – others threaten to risk access, especially for those already at risk of exclusion.

Detailed profiles can be used to offer (or not offer) us products targeted to our individual preferences and maximum willingness to pay, while we lose visibility of the choices and prices the market is offering our neighbouring consumer.

For these reasons, the CPRC team is putting consumer data at the centre of research and policy analysis in 2018. Technology is evolving rapidly, and we need make sure that consumers are sharing in the benefits.

Domestically, we’re also seeing other worrying macroeconomic trends emerging – low wage growth coupled with high costs of living and a tightening credit environment, leading to heightened risk of mortgage stress, housing affordability issues, and devastating social consequences like increasing homelessness.

Meanwhile, the erosion of trust in consumer markets across Europe, the US and Australia continues.

Taking stock and having a renewed focus on improving how the demand side of our markets is operating is critical to sustaining public trust in our institutions, and making markets work better for the consumers whom they are meant to serve.

Central to this is the need for greater transparency to support effective consumer choice.

We need to bridge the gaps and information asymmetries between businesses and consumers about the products and services on offer. We need to bridge the emerging gaps in inequality. And especially, we need to bridge the gaps between commercial practices and community expectations.

It is through evidence-based, high quality research and cross-sectoral engagement through a consumer lens that I believe that the work of the CPRC will be central to driving change.

Working collaboratively across disciplines and sectors is critical in a world where fields of expertise are blending, and technology is moving at a rate faster than regulation can keep pace. This approach is critical to fostering innovative thinking to tackling entrenched and emerging challenges.

It is only by working together that we will be able to deliver on our goal of achieving a fair outcome for all consumers.

It’s my privilege to play a role in guiding the CPRC towards realising this ambition.

A big win for energy consumers

The Australian Competition Tribunal has reviewed pricing reset proposals from Victorian energy distribution businesses and determined that they could not claim a further $345 million from Victorian consumers for building or maintaining the energy distribution network. This decision delivered a significant saving for Victorian energy consumers.

Throughout 2016, CPRC engaged in the Limited Merits Review process with the expert assistance of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. In our submissions to the Australian Competition Tribunal, CPRC and PIAC argued against price rises in the Victorian Distribution Businesses’ regulatory reset proposals – the amount of money required to build and maintain the network of poles and wires.

In October 2017, the Tribunal rejected arguments from the five businesses that they should be allowed to recover costs of some $345 million from Victorian consumers. The Distribution Businesses did not appeal the decision.

Late last year, the Federal Government also abolished Limited Merits Review from the Electricity Distribution Price Reset process, by passing the Competition and Consumer Amendment Bill 2017, following CUAC’s and other submissions to the COAG Energy Council in late-2016 arguing for the process to be removed.

While supporting of the move, PIAC Senior Solicitor Julia Mansour noted that under the replacement review regime, “the Network companies will still be able to challenge the Regulator’s pricing decisions by seeking judicial review. The Victorian decisions show that stronger consumer involvement in reviews is crucial to achieving fairer outcomes in the price-setting process”.

The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee subsequently recommended mechanisms to ensure standing- and cost-protections for consumers in judicial review proceedings.

While very welcome the next steps must be to ensure the alternate process better reflects consumer views in the price-setting processes and to rebuild consumer trust and better regulation of an evolving energy market.

Better measuring outcomes in the rental market

CPRC has embarked on consultations with academics, community advocates, policymakers and industry to further investigate the experiences of those participating in the rental market.

Whether the rental market is working effectively and delivering good outcomes for tenants is currently difficult to ascertain, largely due to a lack of consistent and transparent reporting.

Reports suggest that Australians are facing increased challenges in accessing affordable rental properties. According to the ABS in 2016 there were as many people renting as those who own their own homes outright.[1] Rents continue to increase in metropolitan areas, with the level of affordable rental properties in these areas now consistently less than 10 per cent.

Despite rental and housing costs being the most significant expenditure item for households, Australia still does not have a clear and transparent set of indicators as to whether the rental market is adequately meeting the needs of tenants.

The demographics of people participating in the rental market are also changing markedly. No longer limited to 20-something singles and couples briefly transitioning from living at home to owning a house, now a broad cross-section of ages and household types may spend longer periods in the rental market.

Affordability, quality of available properties, safety and security, health and wellbeing, along with access to effective dispute resolution are all important factors we need to better understand to make informed decisions about effective reform.

CPRC will include these dimensions in the research project which focuses on the reporting of outcomes for market participants. This needs to be better captured to enhance and inform reform. This feedback, along with CPRC’s own research, will form the basis of a report we expect to release in March 2018.

 

 

[1] ABS, 2016 Census QuickStats and dataset 4103.0

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