Privacy issues in the open

SIGN up for a mobile phone and you could sign away your personal details. Buy a raffle ticket and you could go in more than just the draw.

There is nothing stopping personal details gleaned by such means ending up on direct marketers’ databases.

On average, a database costs between $500 and $2,000 for ten thousand names. One containing detailed personal information could be worth much more.

A WA-based mobile phone company included as part of its Subscriber Agreement that the customer permitted “us to receive and disclose any information or documents about your personal particulars and affairs (including any unlisted telephone number or address)...”.

These particulars were to be sent to or from any credit providers or credit reporting agencies, law enforcement agencies, the company’s shareholders, related entities, suppliers, agents or professional advisers for reporting, accounting, product supply and service, marketing and audit purposes and its phone network provider.

This company was actually exceeding its legal requirements by telling customers this.

Under the Privacy Act, it only had to tell customers it would be sending information about them to credit providers and reporting agencies.

The Federal Government is due to consider updating the Privacy Act next year. It was supposed to do this in December 1998.

It is believed the National Privacy Principles are to be incorporated into the Act.

These principles include telling people how details are being used and giving them the ability to say whether they want their personal details to be used in such a way.

Australian Direct Marketing Association communications director Scott McLellan said the association expected its members to follow these principles now.

“If the information is being gathered solely for marketing purposes, the person should have the ability to opt out,” Mr McLellan said.

He said ADMA members had to make sure any databases they onsold had been purged of people that had opted out.

Currently $9 billion is spent on direct response advertising and ADMA’s membership is responsible for 80 per cent of this.

Mr McLennan believes entrenching the opt out clause in law will be a good thing.

He said public awareness of direct marketing lists was growing.

“People should still be aware that some of these lists are being compiled in ways that are not consistent with national privacy principles.

Minter Ellison technology group senior associate Matt Callahan said it was fair to say a lot of companies were adding people’s details to databases without getting their consent.

“Some US information technology providers have been offering free Internet access,” Mr Callahan said.

“To do that you had to fill out a survey. The company then takes that survey and sells it.”

Curtin Business School senior lecturer marketing Mike Ewing said Australia and the US were at least a couple of years behind Europe in terms of privacy legislation.

Mr Callahan said there was a danger of privacy legislation going to far.

He said recent changes to the WA Recording Devices Act made things complicated.

“Under the Act you can’t set up a closed-circuit television camera where people expect not to be monitored,” he said.

“A person going into a deli could say they did not expect to be recorded there.

“We had an incident in the office during a meeting where we were using a dictaphone.

“We could have been in breach of the Act if somebody in the room had not known it was on.”

BankWest managing director Terry Budge said there was a grey area covering customer information.

“If we had a product that we knew to be perfect for you, wouldn’t you want to know about it?” he asked.

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