Living Online

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

Objective: Building trust and consumer confidence in the online environment.

More of our lives are being spent online than ever before. How we engage our peers, manage diaries, pay bills, search for goods and seek advice has forever changed. In many ways, consumers have more information than ever at their fingertips to help inform their decisions. But where is the advice coming from? Is the source trusted? Are there vested interests? Are consumer ratings always what they seem?

Concerning, a recent study from Daly & Scardmaglia found that 38 per cent of Australians were unable to distinguish between a paid advertisement and an organic search result via Google’s search engine. Both the way information is presented to enable comparison of products and services, along with the level of ‘online literacy’ of consumers engaging with these markets will impact the societal outcome. There are clear risks especially for vulnerable customers; those with low levels of literacy and especially those that may be excluded from participation due to lack of internet access.

A myriad of comparison websites operates across a range of sectors. Online comparators can be an effective way for consumers to compare products and services, if the information is up-to-date, accurate, clearly presented and can be tailored to the needs and profile of the consumer. However, it is not often that commercial arrangements are transparent amongst the various parties involved. Concerns have also been raised about the accuracy of information of the products and services being advertised along with any incentives to promote certain products and services over others.

In addition to this, people are creating their own online data which reflects their purchase, consumption, payment, browsing and social media behaviour. The extent to which data remains the ownership of the creator as opposed to the harvester is currently under significant discussion and debate. Clearly, the potential for this information to be used to better target products and services to people that need them is beneficial, however as many have pointed out, the potential for this information to be used to discriminate and ‘redline’ or exclude people from access to markets is not something which should be ignored. Furthermore, concerns are increasing in relation to consumers’ lack of awareness about the data that is being stored and shared about them.

CPRC will focus on research that aims to address and build knowledge in the areas of:

  • Online platforms, systems and tools to enable fair comparisons – information, transparency, consumer ratings systems and quality metrics;
  • Impact of disruption – emerging business models (peer-to-peer), how they move the market and implications for the evolution of consumer protections;
  • The Digital Divide – consumer engagement in an emerging online world and disadvantage and vulnerability in the digital space.

See our first key report: Consumer Data and the Digital Economy

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