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Why real estate agents must be held to the same privacy standards as others

Laws designed to keep us safe should apply to everyone. No exceptions.

Unless you are a real estate agent.

At least that is the sentiment from real estate agents wanting to keep a legal loophole to exempt them from keeping our data safe.

When the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) released its thoughts on the proposed reforms to the Privacy Act, it was clear — they want their sector to keep collecting and using our personal data without meeting basic protections.

According to REIA, real estate services are delivered by around 30,000 small businesses across Australia that don’t currently have to comply with the Privacy Act. The Federal Government is consulting on a proposal that would, among other things, remove the small business loophole and require all businesses to provide privacy protections.

REIA argue that this is regulatory overreach.

If the reform goes ahead, then all real estate agents will have to take radical steps like clearly telling people what they’ll use their information for and storing data safely. They may even have to meet the outrageous high bar of only collecting the personal information they need to provide a service.

Handing over personal data to a real estate agent often isn’t a choice. In a competitive rental market like we have now, many people are scrambling to find a home and can’t afford to pick and choose between agents based on their application processes. If an agent asks for your driver license, passport, employer details and bank account statements then you know you have to hand it over to even be considered to rent their property.

Some real estate agents are now insisting that you hand over your data to a tech company to apply for a property or pay rent with little to no information on how that information will be kept or used. And ticking a box to say you agree to the terms and conditions as you upload all those sensitive documents is not ‘giving consumers a choice’. A recent report from consumer group CHOICE into the RentTech market has found that 41% of renters were pressured to use a third-party tech platform by their agent or landlord. CHOICE also found that 60% of renters were uncomfortable with the amount and type of information collected about them.

The consequences of a data breach are the same for me if a large telco fails to protect my information or if my local real estate agent is hacked. Companies failing to take care with my passport, license or banking details can increase my risk of identity theft, fraud and increase my risk of being the target of scammers. With Australians losing a record $3.1 billion to scams in 2022, we need all businesses to play their part in protecting our data.

CPRC recently surveyed Australians about their views on privacy. We found that the size and nature of a business doesn’t significantly change what Australians expect when it comes to how their data is collected, shared and used. What people expect from

companies is basic and fair:

  • 83% of people want companies to delete their personal information when it is no longer needed.
  • 84% want companies to be responsible for keeping data safe.
  • 86% want companies to notify them when there is a data breach and provide clear information about where to get help.

All businesses should keep our data safe and treat us fairly. No exceptions. Not even for real estate agents.

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