The vast majority of Australian consumers are blissfully unaware of the amount and type of data they give away online, a report has found.

Released by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC), Consumer Data and the Digital Economy exposes the lack of transparency from small and big businesses alike when it comes to data collection.

The report finds that while most people understand that their data is collected, there is still a lack of understanding around what this data actually looks like.

“By and large, Australians surveyed understood that companies have the ability to follow their activities across many websites (91%),” it explains.

“Participants also had some understanding that their information was being shared with third parties.

“Despite general knowledge of data collection and sharing, focus group feedback revealed that consumers do not fully understand specifically what types of information are being collected and shared about them.”

It discusses data in terms of information that personally identifies an individual, including name, email, address and date of birth.

The report also found that 95% of consumers wanted the ability to be able to ‘opt out’ of certain data sharing practices, while 91% believed companies should only collect the bare minimum of required data.

Privacy policies

After surveying 1004 people, the report also reveals that most people will simply glaze over cumbersome privacy policies before ticking the ‘I agree’ box.

It referred to a study conducted for the Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy titled The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Networking Services.

The study created a fabricated social media site with a privacy policy and a terms of service containing ‘gotcha clauses’, such as an agreement that users provide a first-born child as the form of payment.

Almost all of the users (98%) missed this clause, while the average reading time was only 50 seconds, with the authors explaining it would have taken the average person between 15 and 17 minutes to read the entire policy.

The CPRC report explains that the complex nature of these policies creates a barrier for consumers.

“While the law requires companies to provide Privacy Policies outlining how they manage personal information, privacy experts argue that these documents are often too long and complex for consumers to read and understand.

“Individuals who clicked ‘I agree’ to notices about the collection, use or sharing of their personal data may not have freely ‘consented’ to these terms and do not have the ability to negotiate the terms.”

Consumer data right

Launching the report was ACCC chairman Rod Sims, who explained “the genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to data sharing.

“While consumers don’t pay a fee to access the services of digital platforms, they do provide platforms with access to their personal data, which the platforms in turn monetise through targeted advertising,” he said. “This is the platform’s business model.”

He also spoke of the consumer data right, which was announced by the Australian Government in November last year as part of the Open Banking Review.

The measure aims to give consumers the right to access data about them that is held by businesses, creating ‘data portability’.

“Data portability increases competition, particularly for more complex products and services, and creates scope for businesses to make more tailored offerings, including to innovate new or different products that better meet their needs,” Sims said.