ACCC targets data brokers in new inquiry

Data brokers that source information from unwitting consumers will be investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as part of the latest digital platforms inquiry probe.

With the data brokerage industry only expected to increase, the competition watchdog on Monday began seeking views on the “unique consumer protection issues” that arise from the activities of third-party data brokers.

The inquiry will result in an interim report to the Treasurer by the end of March 2024 – the eighth report to be produced by the Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) since the five-year digital platforms inquiry began in 2020.

ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb at the National Press Club

Previous interim reports have assessed areas like browsers and search and digital advertising, and the ACCC is preparing to produce another on the growing “web of interconnected products and services” offered by Big Tech giants Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft.

According to an issues paper, the new inquiry will focus on the business practices and products and services of third-party data brokers, having previously examined how digital platforms use the first-party data they collect.

Unlike first-party data brokers, third-party brokers do not have a direct relationship with the consumer, which “raises unique consumer protection issues” as consumers are less likely to be aware their data is being collected or have consented to the use of their data.

“There is little transparency and awareness of how data brokers operate in Australia despite the vast amounts of information they collect about Australian consumers and the central role they play in enabling the exchange of information between businesses,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

Credit bureaus Equifax and Experian property data and analytics firm CoreLogic, data enablement platform LiveRamp, media and data measurement firm Nielsen, and Oracle, are among the data brokers that will have their products and services considered by the watchdog.

Local credit bureau Illion, REA Group’s PropTrack and Woolworths-backed data and analytics group Quantium – which has insights into around 10 million shoppers and access to Australia’s “largest aggregated and de-identified transaction banking dataset – will also be studied.

The issues paper “acknowledges that these businesses offer a wide range of products and services, including some offerings that may not directly involve the use of personal and other information on persons”.

The ACCC will use the inquiry to understand the “level of competition” between the data brokers and other businesses, including the factors driving competition and any barriers to “effective competition”.

The regulator will also investigate how data brokers use social media, internet and search engine services, customer loyalty programs, electoral rolls, open data projects and other sources to collect information.

Types of information collected could include an individual’s name, home and work addresses, date of birth, marital or family status, education level, income, purchasing history, search and browsing habits, location data and financial information, according to the issues paper.

The ACCC is calling for submission from data brokers, as well as consumers and businesses that interact with data brokers, by August 7. An interim report will be provided to the Treasurer by March 31, 2024.

The watchdog has been assessing the economic competitiveness of digital platforms since it was tasked with considering the impacts of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators on competition in the media and advertising services market in December 2017.

It delivered its final report in July 2019, recommending new oversight for digital platforms, and since February 2020 has continued its scrutiny through a series of interim reports produced by a dedicated digital platforms branch.

A final digital platforms report will be provided to the Treasurer by 21 March 2025, exactly a year after the data brokerage interim report is provided. Other reports have probed areas like messaging services, apps, browsers and search, marketplaces, and digital advertising.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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