Govt looks to new social media crackdown

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government will release draft legislation within weeks to further crackdown on social media firms, with a focus on improving transparency around the handling of user data.

Representatives from the Attorney-General’s Department fronted a senate inquiry into foreign interference through social media on Friday afternoon and revealed that despite an inquiry into the Privacy Act still ongoing, draft legislation will soon be unveiled centred on improving transparency around the use of data by these tech giants.

The legislation, which will soon be released for public discussion, will also change the way that consent is obtained around the use of data by these social media firms.

“We are separately working on exposure draft legislation that will specifically target social media companies and certain other online platforms with similar themes in terms of ensuring that there’s greater transparency about how personal information is being used, and how consent is obtained, particularly for young people,” assistant director of the Attorney-General’s Department’s information law branch Julia Galluccio told the senators.

“We’re in the process of finalising that legislation at the moment, and that will be released for public discussion as well.”

Facebook is facing more regulation in Australia

Issues around a lack of transparency on how user data is being hoovered up and used by the tech giants, and the use of blanket consent notices, were key themes from the ongoing consultation on reforms to the Privacy Act.

“The submissions have raised concerns about the ability of individuals to really understand how their personal information is being used and disclosed, and about the control that they can have over their personal information,” Ms Galluccio said.

“One theme that’s come through is that more work could be done to simplify collection notice requirements to provide greater transparency for individuals about the purpose for which their data is being collected.

“In addition, another theme is that entities should be required to provide greater transparency through their privacy policies so that there’s better information about how their personal information is being used and, in particular, if it’s being used or disclosed for the purpose of influencing an individual’s behaviour or decisions.”

The Privacy Act currently relies heavily on a notice and consent model, Ms Galluccio told the hearing, but the submissions highlighted a number of limitations with this, and the draft legislation will look to address these.

“Some submissions have suggested that perhaps there should be some situations where, even if the individual does consent to the use of information, that information still shouldn’t be collected, used or disclosed, and there should be some kind of notion of fairness and reasonableness in the circumstances to be able to collect, use and disclose that information,” she said.

Ms Galluccio said the draft legislation will be released for public consultation in the coming weeks.

The Privacy Act review was launched in late 2019 following the competition watchdog’s inquiry in the digital platforms. Submissions were due on its first issues paper by late last year, with a discussion paper expected to follow.

But this has still not been produced, with the review delayed ahead of further consultation later this year.

The Coalition’s promised new penalty scheme for data breaches, announced well over two years ago, also hasn’t been launched, with draft legislation still yet to be released.

It also comes after the federal government passed the news media bargaining code earlier this year, which put it in a very public spat with Facebook and Google, and even led to Facebook briefly blocking all news content for Australian users.

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