ACCAN calls for business to simplify privacy policy agreements

ACCAN calls for business to simplify privacy policy agreements

Advocacy group says opportunity exists for service providers to innovate and compete to offer consumers better information about privacy

Privacy policies and online contracts are rarely honoured in the world of business, with calls increasing for greater clarity in Australia.

Outlined through new Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) research, Australians continue to hold significant concerns around privacy, with 60 per cent preferring to cease dealing with a company over such issues.

Unsurprisingly, 79 per cent of Australians are against seeing personal information sent offshore, with 70 per cent opposed to having their data stored in order to receive targeted offers.

Finding suggest that the issue is not derived from a lack of concern across the country however, rather a failure of the privacy policies to be adequately communicated to Australian consumers.

Tending to be legalistic and technical, rather than helpful and informative, the consumer advocacy group said a lack of knowledge on the part of some consumers undermines their ability to provide informed consent for the collection and use of their personal information.

The consumer advocacy group also said the overuse of jargon could lead consumers to feel uncomfortable with practices they have a poor understanding of, undermining consumers’ trust and confidence in service providers.

The report also said contracts which require consumers to provide acceptance through use of a service or by clicking a button could be perceived to be open to legal challenge on the basis that acceptance provided in these circumstances is not valid.

The report detailed the complexity of the issue, stating that understanding terms and conditions for many consumers was more difficult because the technologies themselves and delivery methods of agreements are updated so frequently.

However, the advocacy group maintained that whilst it is possible for law reform to encourage improvements in the provision of consent, it called for service providers to innovate and compete to offer consumers with better information about privacy and maximise opportunities for informed consent.

ACCAN’s position is backed by recent results released by the Australian Privacy Commissioner.

After a global Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) sweep of Internet of Things (IoT) products, a total of 71 per cent of devices and services did not include adequate (or no) privacy policies to illustrate how personal information is collected, used and disclosed.

“This year’s GPEN sweep has reinforced how important it is for businesses, particularly start-ups, to implement a ‘privacy-by-design’ approach, where strong privacy frameworks and communications are implemented from the beginning,” Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, said.

Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim
Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim

“Strong privacy protections and clear explanations for how personal information is managed helps build consumer trust. It also avoids the costly exercise of building these privacy frameworks later on, most often after something has already gone wrong.”

As part of the Privacy Commissioner’s results, the GPEN examined the policies of more than 300 global businesses, including 45 used daily by Australians, to find that the policies did not advise customers to customise their privacy settings (91 per cent), did not explain how customers could delete their information off the device (69 per cent) and failed to include identifiable contact details if customers had privacy concerns (38 per cent).

Pilgrim added that it is important for Australians to remember for an IoT device to work, it needs to understand the user’s personal data, so it is important to be aware of the information being collected and where it is going.

“I encourage all Australians to look for privacy policies before you decide to use a device, and ensure you are comfortable with what information is being collected and how it is being managed.”

As a result, the ACCAN outlined in the report that at the most basic level, information provided to consumers should enable them to avoid contractual arrangement they do not agree to or are uncomfortable with.

Additionally, the advocacy group suggested for business to consider providing consumers with information that facilitates privacy options, offering a means by which consumers can easily compare companies to facilitate competition on privacy practices.

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Tags Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)Australian Privacy CommissionerTimothy PilgrimIoT

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