The ABC has angered privacy advocates by plowing ahead with its plans to make ABC iview accounts mandatory for viewers as of 15 March.
In an open letter published on Wednesday, the Australian Privacy Foundation said the ABC should scrap its plans to put its videos behind account registration.
“The proposal is unnecessary, intrusive, inconsistent with community expectations of protection from online tracking, a potential security or safety threat, and breaches the right not to have to identify yourself,” the letter said.
“It should not go ahead.”
The move to lock content behind account registration was initially meant to happen in July last year, but community backlash led the ABC to retreat from its push toward mandatory logins – at least for the time being.
When the ABC re-announced its decision last month, it published an FAQ page complete with rational for why its change is necessary.
“In a recent audience survey 95 per cent of respondents flagged a strong interest for ABC iview to add personalisation features that would require a login,” the FAQ says.
“Failing to keep pace with user expectations could lead to a danger that our Australian stories get lost in the mix, or don’t get told at all.
“In 2021 ABC iview was Australia’s No 1 broadcaster [video on demand] streaming service with more than 4,500 hours of television shows, live performances, and films to enjoy for free – and ad-free.”
But the Australian Privacy Foundation remains unconvinced, calling the mandatory registration decision “unnecessary and privacy intrusive” and warning that it could “create barriers of access” to certain people.
“The ABC’s role as provider of essential community service information may be compromised by such a mandatory registration barrier, since it may have unexpected adverse consequences at certain times,” the Privacy Foundation said.
“Think of people stuck at night on a rooftop in a flood, those with physical or cognitive difficulties, or with unreliable connectivity in some other crisis.
“The default should be the ABC’s online services should ‘just work’ at a basic level regardless of whether you may have forgotten your login, lost your device, suffer something else that makes registration difficult, be running low on battery or signal, or be hindered by some other challenge.”
Commercial free-to-air networks require mandatory registrations to watch online content in order to collect data, provide targeted advertising, and improve services.
When the ABC first announced it would go down that path, James Wawne, Principal Consultant ANZ for digital enablement consultancy DMPG, said it was necessary for the ABC to stay in touch with the modern entertainment industry.
“Limiting digital experiences to solely unauthenticated experiences is an untenable position, unless the goal is future obsolescence,” he wrote in Mumbrella.
“We could argue that the ABC is playing catch-up in a market where competitive edge comes from first-party data and trust practices culminating in seamless experiences and relevant recommendations.”
Writing in the Conversation, Michael Cowling, Associate Professor of ICT at CQUniversity Australia, said the ABC's move toward mandatory registrations should be cause for reflection about how we share our data with companies and organisations.
“Significant amounts of information could be inferred from our viewing habits: everything from our political leanings to our attention span. What that can then be used for is anyone’s guess,” he said.
“That’s not to say you shouldn’t create an account, but rather that you need to go in with your eyes wide open. Think about what iview means to you, what data might be shared, and how it might be used.
“And then decide if you really love Bluey all that much after all.”