Experts urge ABC to reverse ‘risky’ log-in requirement

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Privacy and technology experts have written to ABC management, urging them to reconsider the decision to require iview users to log in to use the video streaming service, saying the move raises legal questions and creates risks for viewers.

From July, users of the ABC iview service will be required to sign up with an email address and password to continue using it, with the data collected to be used in ‘personalisation’ features like content recommendations and watchlists.

“I think it’s a really risky move from the ABC, both in terms of their own legal compliance but also the potential that they’re putting their audience at risk of harm,” Salinger Privacy principal Anna Johnston told InnovationAus.

ABC managing director David Anderson defends the broadcaster’s decision to introduce mandatory log-ins

Data collected by the ABC will be shared with third parties, like Google and Facebook, unless the user actively opts out – an option that does not yet exist despite millions of people being signed up and a national campaign promoting the registration.

“The problem with opt-out is that opt-out is not consent. Only proactive opt-in will constitute consent,” Ms Johnston told InnovationAus.

“And the law says that if a company or an organisation is going to send data offshore away from Australia to a third party, they need the person’s consent unless other legal tests are met.

“I can’t see how the ABC can meet those other legal tests.”

Earlier this month the ABC revealed plans to make log in mandatory, promising not to sell the data, protect it at a “global best practice” standard and to offer opt-out options to stop users’ data being shared with thirds parties.

ABC managing director David Anderson last week defended the move during Senate Estimates. He said opt-in was considered but ultimately opt out was chosen because it was “standard practice” for media providers and would improve content delivery.

“It’s compulsory in that, we want people to keep coming back to it [iview]. So, we want to be able to provide these features that are positive to you as a user so that you see the value of signing in,” Mr Anderson said.

“At the moment, I’m not sure that you are going to come back as much as you would, if you had the recommendations we would supply you.

Mr Anderson said he had not yet decided if other ABC services like the ABC listen app would require log-ins in future.

Ms Johnston has written to Mr Anderson, expressing concern with the potential harms of requiring users to log in to iview and the legal risks it creates.

In the letter, she raises the problems with third-party data offshore data sharing and outlines that under Australian privacy laws the ABC is required to offer genuine anonymous use of its services and must not collect personal information unless reasonably necessary or directly related to the service.

She argues the ABC is fundamentally different to commercial media platforms and Australia’s other public broadcaster SBS, which is supported by advertising and requires a log-in. In contrast, ABC receives independent funding and is mandated to reflect the diversity of its entire audience.

“It’s a different balancing act for the ABC than it is for commercial operators,” Ms Johnston said.

“So, as a result, I think the ABC needs to tread more carefully than commercial operators.”

The warning follows a similar alarm from Australian National University associate professor and Thinking Cybersecurity chief executive Vanessa Teague, who has also written to the ABC.

She says the public broadcaster’s decision to collect user data and force ABC viewers to log in to iview is “ill-considered and should be reversed”.

Associate Professor Teague’s letter explains the potential barriers created by a log-in for certain groups like children, older people and those with less familiarity with technology. She also questions the validity of consent obtained by the ABC to collect and share data, and the consequences of “personalised experiences”.

“We are not the product,” Associate Professor Teague told InnovationAus.

“We are the citizens who paid to create the product.”

In the letter to the ABC board, Associate Professor Teague argues increasing “personalised experiences” in media content creates risks and, as demonstrated in the United States, can lead to hyper-partisan thought bubbles that distort perceptions of reality.

“’Personalised experiences’ are unfortunately often experienced by social media users and commercial TV viewers as isolating bubbles of reflected prejudice,” Associate Professor Teague’s letter says.

“This is exactly the opposite of what the ABC does now, and should do in future, for Australians.

“If ABC viewers wanted this, they would opt-in. I see no objection to offering data collection, data sharing and personalisation on an opt-in basis if it is done transparently. But please reconsider your decision to gather viewing data without any option to refuse, to share it without opt-in consent, and to prevent people viewing ABC iview content without logging in.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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