Consumers should benefit from sharing data: PC

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 27 March, 2017

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Australian consumers should have the right to trade their data in return for better services from both business and government entities, and maintaining consumer trust will be essential to their ongoing willingness to share personal data, according to Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris.

In a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia last week in the lead-up to the conclusion of the commission’s inquiry into data availability and use, Harris noted that consumer access to the data they create is currently very poor.

“This is despite the near-universal acceptance today that data is an asset, not a liability. And that, somewhat ironically, these same consumers supply pretty much all of it, outside machine-to-machine exchanges and the pure sciences,” he said.

Outside of privacy protections, there is a complete absence of rights for individuals in relation to their data. The Productivity Commission is proposing the introduction of a right for consumers to be able to access their data and trade it for better services.

While consumers have so far been mostly willing to part with their data, there are indications that they do not completely trust business or government with their information. Trust will be an essential prerequisite to keep this important data flowing, and providing the ability for consumers to benefit from the data they provide could help maintain this trust, Harris said.

Despite arguments during the consultation to the contrary, such a right should not be limited to personal data, Harris argued. But this will require policy that lays out a clear definition of what is and is not a consumer’s data.

“In the case of your car, your service workshop or (increasingly) original manufacturer are today accumulating your data, and that data capture is growing,” he said.

“In future, your insurer may want that data. They already do seek it in the UK as part of offering you a better deal. So logically you should in future be able to obtain it, where it is in your interests to do so... Yet the law is by no means clear that you can.”

Likewise, there is little certainty over whether data generated by smartphone apps can be considered personal information. The IoT will also bring new complications, as evidenced by the case of smart meters.

“If we had a consumer-oriented data transfer right, [you could] direct your current energy supplier to send your data direct to a new supplier and wait to be convinced by their offer. And maybe your current supplier, noting your active use of your data, might make you a better offer too. [Or] you send it to a non-supplier, like a solar panel or battery supplier, to get a tailored offer,” Harris said.

“Personal information, which is the Privacy Act’s approach, may struggle to deal with data generated by machines that you won’t even own.”

The Productivity Commission has proposed the Data Sharing and Release Act to resolve these questions, and to create new institutions to facilitate a data access and trading regime.

“The reforms we will provide to government in a week or two will offer a comprehensive approach to data access and use that seeks specifically to build up through substance rather than rhetoric community licence for change,” Harris said.

“Today, if deprived of consumer data certain very significant social mechanisms would collapse... To ensure continued trust, it is worth considering how we give something back, as we take ever greater (and wiser) advantage of what we can now find out.”

Image courtesy of KamiPhuc under CC

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