The New Challenges of Privacy

Article by Hon Terry Aulich, Chair of the AMSRO Privacy Compliance Committee

The New Challenges of Privacy

The social research and marketing industry is highly reliant on the trust of the Australian community. Respondents to polling, surveys and focus groups expect their personal details to be protected and used in accordance with Australia’s privacy laws.

But, being compliant with the law is not enough. Members of AMSRO are absolutely reliant on the public being willing to provide personal details and opinions.

If at any time that public trust is broken, negative consequences can affect the industry, ranging from lessened community co-operation with researchers and marketers through to government consumer protection action, which, if ill considered, could attack the life-blood of the social research and marketing industry.

That is why AMSRO has ensured that its own Privacy Code is bolstered by a Trust Mark provision. The Market and Social Privacy code requires AMSRO members to practise privacy protection at a level that specifically addresses privacy issues critical to the industry.

That move to go beyond government legislation is one of the most important strategies set in place by AMSRO on behalf of its members.

The Trust Mark’s inauguration was a complex exercise but over 80 members have already signed up. The process was complex because AMSRO and its Privacy Compliance Committee needed to grapple with changing community expectations about privacy, new technology such as cloud computing and cheap research applications which has led to an epidemic of occasionally flawed privacy and research practices.

AMSRO members working under the Trust Mark is a seal of endorsement that ensures the companies are compliant with the highest ethical standards, particularly in regards to privacy and the new code. It also assures those people who engage in research that their information is protected.

There are three criteria AMSRO member companies must meet to qualify for the Trust Mark: adherence to the Privacy (Market & Social Research) Code, the AMSRS[1] Code of Professional Behaviour, and certification to the International Standard for Market, Opinion and Social Research (ISO 20252).

The process may have been complex but it comes at a time when new technologies and business models are disrupting traditional ways of doing things.

I have already mentioned the do it yourself surveys but, as a result of new business models, the value of personal data is now a highly valuable and tradeable commodity.

Many will remember the demise of Ansett Airlines. In the ensuing attempts to purchase and save the airline the most valuable asset was always the frequent flyer database. Credit cards, expenditure patterns, income, addresses, contact numbers, reward preferences, travel patterns- such data banks are a rich source of business information.

Now, the race is on as entities such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and the telecoms all refine their business models which include staff minimization, customer willingness to do the work that the provider used to do (for example, online bookings, upgrading of your computer’s operating systems etc) and reshaping consumer behaviour.

Above all, these models are reliant on customers being willing to provide personal details including photographs, where-abouts, friendships, family or relationship status, political and religious leanings, sexual orientation, occupation.

There has been a temporary halt to this phenomenon in Europe and the US where the Schrems case has advanced from the Irish High Court to the European Court of Justice which held that the Safe Harbour provisions which had since 2000 been an acceptable way of allowing the personal data of European citizens to be transmitted to the US, was now unacceptable (due primarily to the willingness of certain US security agencies to hack into the personal data of Europeans and others).

This is currently being slowly negotiated between the US and EU authorities but there are lessons to be learnt from this imbroglio. That lesson? If industries and some government agencies lose the trust of the public, governments will act to make privacy stronger and, for some businesses, this could be very damaging to their bottom line.

Let me make a prediction. At some time in Australia there will be some cowboy (and cowgirl) companies that will misuse systems that collect personal data and all hell will break loose.

The consequences for that will be significant calls for governments to act to control personal data gatherers. Like Do-Not-Call regulations, it can come close to affecting the livelihoods of responsible research and social marketing organisations. That type of Government response can often require significant industry campaigns to ensure that responsible organisations are not caught up in the “fix-it-net’.

As we move into a world where mega-data is the new business gold and technology changes such as cloud computing, biometrics recognition, sophisticated mobiles are the enablers, AMSRO’s investment in a reputable, Privacy Code and Trust Mark, increasingly looks like a critical investment in its members’ future.

AMSRO’s website privacy advice is part of that critical process.

We have heeded the Privacy Commissioner’s warning that 60% of Australians polled indicated that they made a decision not to deal with an organization because of privacy concerns.

About Hon Terry Aulich (Tasmanian Senator 1984 – 1993)

Terry began his term as an Australian Labor Party Senator on 1 December 1984. During his term he chaired a number of key Committees such as Education, Employment and Training, the ALP Caucus Committee on Legal Affairs, the Industrial Relations Committee and the Select Committee on the Australia Card which recommended the creation of the Privacy Act, the Tax File Number system, 100 points bank account verification and other anti-fraud and privacy protection measures. The then Labor Government implemented those recommendations. Aulich also chaired the ALP caucus committee, which recommended to Cabinet that gay people should legally be permitted to enter or remain in the Armed Forces. In 1993 Terry set up Aulich and Co, strategic advisors to a large number of corporate and not-for profit organisations such as IBM, AMCOR, Glaxo-Wellcome, the Aulich and Co provides polling and focus group services for its clients. In addition to chairing AMSRO’s Privacy Committee, Terry also chairs for the Biometrics Institute.

[1] The Australian Market & Social Research Society (AMSRS) is a not-for profit professional membership body of over 2,000 market and social research professionals who are dedicated to increasing the standard and understanding of market and social research in Australia.