It is probably cliché to even discuss this topic, but in the information age we really are not taking enough control of our information. We continue to see organisations sell our information and yet we continue to part with that information. This isn't just an annoyance, but can result in your information falling into the wrong hands such as your insurance company, or a stalker.
You can't stop interacting with society and some information will always be collected, but if you are more aware and alert then you can choose whether it is necessary to share your information in every instance.
Who has our information?
What we probably fail to understand is the broad range of organisations that are collecting and selling information on us. Something as seemingly innocuous as a bike sharing program can receive significant revenue from selling information about you. If they can sell the information then the information must be valuable, which surely means it must be somewhat specific.
In a recent Sydney Morning Herald article, Dr Sandra Peter, from Sydney Business Insights at the University of Sydney's Business School, said the information collected by the companies can be very lucrative, especially if combined with the data their investors have. So the issue isn't just the information that the bike sharing app on your phone is collecting, the issue is compounded by organisations that marry this information up with other data collected about you from other sources.
Wesfarmers has also announced that they are separating out or spinning off their Coles business, but retaining an interest in it and Fly Buys so that they can keep collecting data. Wesfarmers is parting with a $21b asset and yet they want to hold onto the data.
"Wesfarmers said it would not totally exit the business and would maintain a minority 20 per cent stake in the spun-off business, "to support strategic alignment between Wesfarmers and Coles in relation to various growth initiatives, including in the areas of data and digital. Wesfarmers also proposes to retain a substantial ownership stake in 'flybuys' to support continued access to the loyalty program and continued investment in data analytics capabilities," the company said in a statement to the ASX."
Don't I have a right to privacy?
In a word, no. Firstly, you signed away that right when you signed the terms and conditions for hiring the bike (or whatever other product you signed up for).
Secondly, there is no enshrined right to privacy in Australian law or NSW law. Some government officials might tell you that there is legislation, such as the Australian Privacy Principles, but these are fairly easy to circumvent. For instance, they require organisations to:
- the kinds of personal information that the entity collects and holds;
- how the entity collects and holds personal information;
- the purposes for which the entity collects, holds, uses and discloses personal information;
- how an individual may access personal information about the individual that is held by the entity and seek the correction of such information;
- how an individual may complain about a breach of the Australian Privacy Principles, or a registered APP code (if any) that binds the entity, and how the entity will deal with such a complaint;
- whether the entity is likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients;
- if the entity is likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients—the countries in which such recipients are likely to be located if it is practicable to specify those countries in the policy.
All of this could be dealt with by including in their terms and conditions that they will collect all kinds of personal information, how they will collect and hold it, and that they can give it to third parties. Because you agree to them giving your information to third parties, that act is now 'legal' and so any protection against the 'illegal' sharing of your information is pretty much moot. The terms of the bike sharing companies no doubt cover these bases and your information is legally being collected by a third party to paint a conglomerate picture of you.
Also this legislation only applies to large corporations. Small corporations and individuals are not required to take these steps.
What can I do?
We live in a digital age, and using any service involves creating a 'user account' which includes your full name, date of birth, mobile number and home address. If you call an at home doctor service for a sick child you then get marketing material from them, even though the at home doctor services are basically funded by Medicare. What can you do, not call a doctor for your sick child?
No, obviously you can't stop using services, but you can't think about which services you sign up for. Most people complain about your Woolies or Coles loyalty cards but honestly, that information isn't as valuable as information that can track your movements. When you sign up for Westfields parking and attach a credit card you agree to them giving any information about your credit card to third parties. This information will include the type of car you drive, how often you come to Westfields and for how long, and which stores you use the credit card at within any Westfields. This allows for a broader picture of you than simply your groceries, but when it is also married with the data from your grocery shop it starts to give a much more accurate picture of you, the consumer.
Both of these things, the Coles loyalty card and the Westfields parking automation, are not necessary. You can shop without using the loyalty card, and many industry observers like Choice or The Checkout have observed that your discounts are negligible and advise against using these programs. You can still park at Westfields and even pay for your parking at Westfields without giving them further detailed access to your credit card history.
Remember the adage - if something is free then you are the product. If you are being offered something that appears to be for free, like an extra hour of free parking if you link your credit card to your car for 'easy' payment of your parking fees, then the organisation is probably making money from that free extra.
Businesses exist to make money. That free app that you download to make ordering your coffee faster or cheaper may be tracking far more than your coffee buying habits. Do you need the coffee app? Can you turn off location on your phone? Can you pay for something without opening an account or giving them your credit card details? Can you create a different user name or date of birth for services (like groceries) that don't really need to know your date of birth?
Some services you just need, and you will have to give over your information. Others can be fairly simply avoided, and should be.