It’s up to companies and government agencies to rebuild lost trust and regain the public’s confidence that our data is safely stored and our rights to privacy are being upheld – that’s the message of this year’s Privacy Awareness Week.

In a webinar opening Privacy Awareness Week, Erin Turner, CEO of the Consumer Policy Research Centre, said recent loss of consumer trust has come in part from the harmful or negligent treatment of data.

“This takes a few different forms such as increased unwanted marketing approaches – I think anyone with the mobile phone is increasingly getting those calls,” Turner said.

“This is especially happening as our data is sold on to other companies and to data brokers.”

She also noted growing numbers of scams affecting Australians, with scammers using ill-gotten data to more accurately target ordinary people.

A survey last year noted this effect, finding that 60 per cent of Australians would lose trust in a brand if that brand was successfully used in a scam.

Then there’s deliberately harmful practices, Turner said, like those from dating app Tinder which was caught charging older users more for paid services.

“People provide a lot of very important and very sensitive information to a dating app when they sign up,” she said.

“What wasn't explicit is that that information was then being used to set different prices for the same service for different groups of customers.

“When people experience something like this, that is going to impact their perception and trust of a company.”

Government agencies likewise have to actively manage and use data in a way that is responsible and build trust with citizens who are often left with little choice but to use government services.

Efforts like the ‘robodebt’ scheme have done little to ensure this sort of trust and confidence, given tax data was used in an illegal, misguided, and harmful attempt to recover supposed debt created by Centrelink recipients.

The automated debt recovery scheme affected some of Australia’s most vulnerable people and was eventually scrapped with the government issuing $721 million in refunds before privately settling a class action lawsuit against it.

Rebecca Skinner, CEO of Services Australia which runs social services like Centrelink and Medicare, told Mondays’ Privacy Awareness Week webinar that the scale of these systems means privacy and data governance are a constant consideration.

“Services Australia takes its obligations around privacy very, very seriously,” Skinner said.

“It’s a non-negotiable for us and it underpins everything that we do.

“The agency handles pretty well every Australian’s data in one way or another – everyone in Australia is a customer of Medicare and that’s one of the datasets that we hold.”

Skinner described how the government’s digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates were an example of privacy-focused product design.

“It enabled citizens to choose whether they shared with the check-in app from a state, or choose to just continue with their embedded Medicare app, or choose whether they put it into wallets on Android and Apple phones,” she said.

“Around 20 million Australians in the end had one of those certificates on their phones.”

The Office of the Australian Privacy Commission is holding webinars each day during Privacy Awareness Week.