ABC iview account required from March despite privacy warnings

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

ABC’s 3 million iview users will need to have a user account by mid-March to continue watching as part of the public broadcaster’s “personalisation” push. The accounts track user viewing habits and shares the data with Google and Facebook by default, angering privacy advocates.

Privacy and accessibility concerns led to the ABC pushing back the switch to mandatory iview log-ins by more than six months, with the public broadcaster working with the national privacy regulator and ombudsman on its data policies.

On Thursday, the ABC announced 15 March would be the new cut off for anonymous accounts so it could “continue to nurture its relationship with audiences”.

Up to 3 million people watch iview each week but less than a third log-in to a user account.

ABC iView moves ahead with data plan

The ABC insists the change will improve its video on demand service, which has existed since 2008 and never required a log-in.

User accounts mean the ABC can offer features like watchlists and personalised recommendations.

Users will also increasingly see advertisements for ABC content elsewhere, with user data collected and shared with tech giants Facebook and Google for targeted ads on their platforms.

Iview users can opt out of this third-party data sharing, but it is on by default and requires a manual opt out in account settings.

Privacy experts have warned this does not constitute active or informed consent and could be a breach of Australian privacy laws.

“Australians don’t want to be tracked online. Our public broadcaster should not be sharing data about its viewers and listeners with global tech behemoths without our active and informed consent,” privacy expert Anna Johnston of Sallinger Privacy said earlier this year.

“Aunty’s job is to tell us stories, not tell stories about us to Facebook and Google.”

The ABC has pressed ahead, and says it will never sell user data or rely on recommendation engines and algorithms, and  “human curation will still be involved”.

“Nothing about creating a login for ABC iview changes our editorial independence, integrity or responsibility, including the privacy and data protections people expect of the ABC,” the public broadcaster said in a statement confirming the March 15 start date.

“The ABC places a high priority on the protection of personal information, in line with the trust that Australians place in their public broadcaster.”

The link to the ABC’s Privacy Impact Assessment in the announcement was broken at the time of publication.

At Senate Estimates on Tuesday, ABC managing director David Anderson said the feedback has been taken on board but the broadcaster needed to “personalise [iview] into the future”.

“We’ve taken on board a lot of feedback about what that means in features and privacy with regard to data. We will, I think, be the best at this with regard to be able to provide options for people,” he said.

Mr Anderson said iview has up to 3 million users each week, and under the non-mandatory system 800,000 had logged in to user accounts.

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