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Australians in the dark on how companies track and target them, new report shows

UNSW Sydney 2 mins read

A new report by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) and UNSW Sydney reveals Australian consumers don’t understand how companies – including data brokers – track, target, and profile them using their personal information.

The report includes findings from a survey by CPRC of 1,000 Australians about their understanding of privacy terms and attitudes to businesses collecting and sharing their personal information.

The survey shows:

  • Australians do not feel in control of their personal information.
  • More than 70% believe they have very little or no control over what personal information online businesses share with other businesses.
  • Only a third feel they have at least moderate control over whether businesses use their personal information to create a profile about them.
  • Most consumers appear to have no understanding of terms commonly used by companies in privacy notices including:
    • "pseudonymised information" (81%)
    • "hashed email address" (74%)
    • "advertising ID" (67%).
  • They also don’t understand how these types of information are used to single them out and influence them online.

“A lot of the language businesses are using in their privacy terms seems designed to confuse consumers and hide what businesses and data brokers are really doing with personal data,” says Dr Katharine Kemp, Associate Professor, UNSW Law & Justice and co-author of the report.

“Many companies are trying to argue that the data they use is not actually covered by the Privacy Act when they allocate a unique code to each individual to track and profile them across most areas of their life. This makes a mockery of the objectives of privacy law.”

Co-author of the report, Chandni Gupta, Deputy CEO and Digital Policy Director, CPRC, pointed out the power imbalance that exists.

“While 71% of Australians know we are not in control of our data – we are not aware just how much of it is being tracked and how easily we can be singled out,” Gupta says.

“There’s a power imbalance between us and businesses. The current laws fall short in covering this problem. Our privacy laws need to be strengthened and we need a ban on unfair data practices.”

This report is in advance of the federal government’s considerations for potential reforms to our privacy legislation. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is also expected to release its next interim report on the data broker industry.

Media enquiries:

  • Primary media contact: Dr Katharine Kemp, Associate Professor, UNSW Law & Justice is available for comment on 0422 393 690 or k.kemp@unsw.edu.au
  • Chandni Gupta is also available for comment. Please contact CPRC Communications manager Liliana Campos 0493 539 466 or via media@cprc.org.au

Key Facts:

New report shows the vast majority of Australian consumers have no understanding how they are being tracked and targeted by companies using their personal information.


Contact details:

  • Dr Katharine Kemp, Associate Professor, UNSW Law & Justice is available for comment on 0422 393 690 or k.kemp@unsw.edu.au

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