Aussies in the dark over data, ACCC says

Personal information is collected electronically at almost every point in our lives – and we have very little say about it, says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in a new report.

The ACCC says Aussie consumers are largely unaware of the sheer volume of data being collected on them. Nor are they aware of just how that data is being used.

The Digital Platform Services Inquiry report has shone a light on the murky world of data collection, usage and sharing by data firms.

“Data is a critical commodity in today’s economy as it helps businesses create innovative products and tailor new services for consumers,” says ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe.

“This report shines a light on a relatively unknown part of the data ecosystem and examines the data products and services supplied by data firms. In many cases, the data firms do not have a direct relationship with the consumers whose data may be used.”

What is being collected?

In short, just about everything. Any and all activities you partake in online are being recorded somewhere and has the potential to identify you and is therefore valuable to a data trader.

There are obvious pieces of data being collected, such as your name, address, phone number or data of birth.

But the ACCC found websites and retailers are collecting even more obscure info, including your current real-time location, what type of device you are using, your IP address and even supposedly secure things such as your medical and criminal history.

“Many consumers may be unaware of the scope of data that is collected and then shared or on-sold to other data firms or unidentified third parties,” Ms Lowe says.

No choice – and we’re not happy

Protecting your data from the prying eyes of traders is almost impossible. But not giving away that data in the first place is also extremely difficult, at least if you wish to participate in modern society.

It seems the ACCC agrees.

“As consumers are increasingly required to provide personal information or other data on themselves to access important services, such as applying for a rental property or receiving an insurance quote, we are very concerned that consumers may be unable to exercise choice or meaningful control over how their data is shared and used,” says Ms Lowe.

Data used in the report found that 74 per cent of Australians are uncomfortable with their personal data being collected and sold.

Data firms often trade in what’s known as ‘de-identified’ data, where information that could be used to identify you has been removed. But the ACCC has expressed particular concern the volume and types of data being collected will make it easy for bad actors to identify the data anyway.

They highlight the potential identification and targeting of vulnerable people when consumers are categorised into groups to identify potential customers. They give the example of a consumer segment that identifies people as ‘frequent gamblers’ could be used to advertise gambling products to people who have a gambling addiction.

What can be done about it?

The ACCC is calling for current privacy laws to be strengthened to force data firms to be more transparent about what is being collected and how it is being used.

They also highlighted the fact that any consent given by consumers is only given after they have to wade through a long and convoluted privacy statement – which most people don’t actually read.

The report recommends legislation to force companies collecting data to provide clear, concise and easy to read privacy statements.

“Without clear, concise, and understandable terms of consent, the control over personal data becomes a fictional concept for the average user.”

With more and more personal data being collected each day, the problem will only get worse before it gets better.

Are you comfortable with the amount of data being collected on you? Is it just part of the modern world? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How to get your personal info off the internet

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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