(Australian Associated Press)
How digital platforms such as Google and Facebook treat consumer data is a top priority of the competition watchdog, says chairman Rod Sims.
Mr Sims told the Consumer Policy Research Conference in Melbourne on Tuesday that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that Facebook and Google had access to an unparalleled amount of private and public data.
“Few consumers are fully informed of, nor can they effectively control, how their data is collected, used and shared by digital platforms,” Mr Sims said.
“Nor do they fully appreciate the extent to which their actions online are monitored and recorded for different purposes including targeted advertising.”
The vague, lengthy and complex data policies of these platforms contribute to a disconnect between how consumers think their data is treated and how it is actually treated, Mr Sims said.
And when digital platforms are acquired, consumers rights over their data can be weakened further, Mr Sims said.
When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, the social media giant said it couldn’t match Facebook and Whatsapp user accounts – but two years later it started doing so, he said.
Mr Sims said he was concerned Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit would erode Fitbit’s robust privacy settings.
“While both Fitbit and Google have indicated that Fitbit users health and wellbeing data will not be used for Google Ads … it is a stretch to believe that commitment will still be in place five years from now,” Mr Sims said.
Even customer loyalty schemes such as frequent flyer and supermarket loyalty programs have been misuses, Mr Sims said.
The ACCC filed suit against Google last month for allegedly misleading consumers about how it keeps location data, and against HealthEngine in August for allegedly manipulating patient reviews of health practices.
Mr Sims said the government’s response to the ACCC’s Digital Platform Inquiry it released in July was coming by year end, but there had already been some signs of progress by the two platforms.
Faceook is partnering with news organisations, including in Australia, to fund and feature news content, while Google has changed its algorithm to prioritise original journalism, Mr Sims said.
“Concerted pressure produces change, and that change also emphasises the need to maintain the pressure.”