Data protection lags data rights

James Riley
Editorial Director

The potential benefits of Australian government open data initiatives are being overshadowed by a lack of adequate protections and security, a new report has found.

The Consumer Policy Research Centre report on consumer data and the digital economy found that open data can lead to significant benefits and innovation, but that consumers need to be “put in the driver’s seat” and given adequate control and protections over their data.

It comes as ACCC boss Rod Sims also sings the praises of open data, saying that “the genie is out of the bottle” on the importance of data, and that it’s a “fundamental competition and consumer reform”.

Moody feels: Consumers will start demanding better data protections 

The report found that Australians care about data protection, but feel they don’t have control over the data they provide to big tech companies.

Its survey found 95 per cent of people want companies to give them an option to opt-out of certain types of information being collected from them, and 91 per cent agreed that companies should only collect information that is relevant to the service provided.

Nearly three quarters of those surveyed said governments should force companies to give consumers an option to opt-out of what data they provide, and nearly 70 per cent believe government should develop protections to ensure customers are not unfairly excluded from essential products or services based on their data profile.

“Australian consumers are tired of being forced by corporations to give away their valuable personal data, just to be able to conduct their daily lives,” Consumer Policy Research Centre chief executive Lauren Solomon said.

“We don’t understand what we’re giving away, or why, and it makes most of us uncomfortable,” she said. “We are providing a valuable commodity often for little to no return.”

The results were based on a survey conducted by Roy Morgan Research with a nationally representative sample of more than 1000 Australians and two focus group studies.

The Commonwealth recently moved to legislate the Consumer Data Right (CDR) with an aim to expand consumers’ access to their own data. The CDR would target the banking sector first, followed by energy and telecommunications industries.

While this was a “welcome move”, it was still only voluntary and for certain types of data, and “falls short” of international standards like the GDPR.

“Our research demonstrates the need for an economy-wide shift in our outdated privacy and consumer protections to deal with this new digital economy, empowering consumers with choice and visibility of the way their data is collected, used and shares,” Ms Solomon said.

“If the private sector will not self-regulate, I believe that consumers will demand that government steps in,” she said.

“Unless companies find ways to create a more even value exchange with consumers in the future, eventually everyday Australians will demand policy settings – or adopt new technologies – that limit the ability of companies to hold their private data.”

But in his recent speech, Mr Sims said that while the CDR is a “fundamental competition and consumer reform”, it isn’t meant to act like the GDPR in the EU.

“The CDR is not intended to be the one-stop shop for regulation and control of consumer data. Privacy rules and frameworks will continue to be the primary tools to address current and emerging privacy issues,” Mr Sims said.

“Robust privacy protection and information security will however be a core feature of the CDR. Ensuring trust and integrity in the CDR system are essential to its success.”

Mr Sims said the new CDR is about giving the power back to consumers and putting them in control of their own data.

“The way data is used within society is changing rapidly. Business is obtaining a benefit from this data but often consumers are not,” he said.

“Indeed, innovations that arguably benefit consumers such as targeted news or advertising are controlled almost exclusively by business interests rather than consumer decisions or choice.

“In this context, attempts to redress the balance and give more control to consumers, and to spur competition, are to be strongly welcomed.”

The CDR would be implemented through a multi-layered regulatory model with the ACCC taking on rule-making, third party accreditation, enforcement and consumer education roles for the new scheme.

“At a time when the many uses of big data are increasingly affecting our daily lives the ACCC finds itself in the unique position of having a dual role both facilitating the sharing of data with companies through the CDR as well as examining information asymmetry between digital platforms and consumers in the sharing of data,” Mr Sims said. “We view these roles as complementary.”

“At the heart of our role for both functions is a need to examine and ensure consumers benefit from the competitive provision of services and are adequately informed of, and agree to, the way in which their data is used and can be utilised to further their own interests.

This in turn would assist in ensuring consumers get a better deal in the value of their data and in turn promote an open and informed competitive market.

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