Consumer advocacy group CHOICE is marking Data Protection Day with results from a new survey, which has found Australians must typically consent to an average of 116 privacy policies at any one time, amounting to a hefty 467,000 words.
"It's completely unacceptable that Australians have to read through 467,000 words of privacy policies if they want to be able to fully understand how companies are using their personal data," says CHOICE consumer data advocate, Kate Bower.
"No one has the time to sift through 467,000 words of complicated legalese contained in privacy policies. In fact, CHOICE calculated that it would take over 31 hours to read through the average 116 privacy policies Australians are asked to read and consent to. That's almost a full time working week, which is essentially impossible," says Bower.
"Our research shows that notice and consent alone won't protect Australians from data misuse. Instead of expecting every consumer to read about the detailed ways in which their data could be used by businesses, we should have clear rules to stop businesses using data in ways that harm consumers.
It's no surprise that CHOICE's survey also found that over half of the respondents have read none of the privacy policies in full from their smart devices, smartphone apps, websites they visited, and subscriptions and loyalty programs they're a member of.
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CHOICE is calling for urgent reform to the Privacy Act, with a move away from the current notice and consent model to one that requires businesses to act responsibly and ethically in the first place.
"Australians should not be put in a position where they have to choose between accessing a product or service, and giving over their data to a business to use indefinitely in ways that could cause them harm," says Bower.
"We want to see businesses putting Australians first by only collecting data that is needed to provide the service or product they're offering and making sure that they use data in ways that help consumers, not hurt them. We know this can be achieved by reforming the Privacy Act so that businesses are legally required to use customer data responsibly and fairly and fairly," says Bower.
"The introduction of standardised privacy policies, written in simple and easily understood language, would also be a good step in the right direction. However, we know that there is a lot more that needs to be done to ensure that the personal data of the Australian community is protected and used responsibly by companies. We need better regulation of businesses, stronger monitoring by regulators and tougher penalties for bad behaviour," says Bower.
Read our analysis of privacy policies from 75 leading apps and websites here: https://www.choice.com.au/privacycomparison
Media contact: Katelyn Cameron, 0430 172 669, email@example.com
CHOICE surveyed 1027 campaign supporters and members between 17 December, 2021 and 10 January, 2022.
This survey was sent anonymously, meaning there's no identifier to track who has completed the survey.
For the questions about how many apps, websites, streaming services etc respondents use or visit, the respondents selected a number range. We then used the midpoint of each range to calculate an estimated average.
To calculate the average reading time and number of words, we analysed 75 privacy policies from commonly used apps, ecommerce retailers, websites, banks, travel and ticketing businesses using free online writing assistant Grammarly.