Meaningless Privacy Terms Enable Companies to Conceal Australians’ Data Control

Meaningless Privacy Terms Enable Companies to Conceal Australians' Data Control

New research conducted by the non-profit Consumer Policy Research Centre and UNSW Sydney reveals that Australian consumers have a limited understanding of how companies, including data brokers, track, target, and profile them. The study also found that 70% of Australians feel they have little to no control over the disclosure of their data between companies, leading to feelings of anger, frustration, and distrust. These findings are particularly significant as the government considers overdue reforms to privacy legislation and the consumer watchdog finalizes its report on data brokers.

To ensure fair and trustworthy data handling, the government must prevent companies from hiding their practices behind confusing and misleading privacy terms and enforce fairness in data handling. Currently, our online and offline activities are constantly tracked by various companies, including data brokers who trade in our personal information. This includes data about our online activity, purchases, relationship status, financial circumstances, health concerns, search history, and location.

Despite repeated evidence that consumers view this as a misuse of their personal information, many businesses continue to find new ways to track and profile individuals. Companies often describe the data they collect using confusing and unfamiliar terms, making it difficult for consumers to understand or object to the use and disclosure of their personal information.

Businesses can use our data to their advantage at our expense. This includes charging higher prices, preventing us from seeing better offers, micro-targeting political messages or ads based on our health information, reducing customer service priority, and creating profiles to share with prospective employers, insurers, or landlords.

Privacy policies commonly refer to terms such as anonymized data, pseudonymized information, hashed emails, audience data, and aggregated information. However, these terms have no legal definition or fixed meaning in practice. Data brokers and other companies may use pseudonymized information or hashed email addresses to create detailed profiles without our knowledge.

The survey conducted as part of the research showed that Australians do not feel in control of their personal information. More than 70% of consumers believe they have little to no control over the sharing of personal information between online businesses and other companies. Only a third of consumers feel they have moderate control over whether businesses use their personal information to create a profile about them. Additionally, most consumers have no understanding of common terms used in privacy notices, further exacerbating the lack of control.

Simply educating consumers about the terms used by companies and how their data is shared is not a sufficient solution. Undefined terms and the burden of understanding complex data ecosystems should not be placed on consumers. Instead, urgent law reform is needed to make privacy protections fit for the digital era. This should include clarifying that information that singles out an individual is considered personal information and implementing a fair and reasonable test for data handling rather than relying on take-it-or-leave-it privacy consents.

By implementing these changes, we can ensure that privacy terms are clear and meaningful, and there are substantial legal requirements for how personal information is handled in the digital economy.

Discover more from WIREDGORILLA

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading