Aussies warned of new data tracking ‘secret cameras’
The most intimate details of Australians' lives are being tracked without their consent - and even without their knowledge - and the country's laws are not designed to deal with the disturbing trend, a new report has revealed.
From where you live, where you work and what you do when you wake up, to what you look like, what you buy, where you buy it and how much you spend, consumers' movements and moods are being tracked, compiled and sold.
And the University of Melbourne study warned consumers would face increasingly dire consequences from the silent surveillance, with algorithms deciding who can and cannot access services, setting higher prices for some, and creating detailed profiles that cannot be corrected.
Details of the clandestine tracking are laid out in the State of the Art in Data Tracking Technology report, co-lead by digital privacy researcher Dr Suelette Dreyfus and associate professor Shanton Chang.
The study shows how information is collected from Australians both online and off, providing examples of how it has been used in the past.
One weather app tracked users' locations and sold it to a hedge fund, for example, while an Australian shopping centre operator identified and tracked 12.3 million electronic devices in its malls, including 11.1 million devices which were not even connected to its wi-fi network.
Dr Dreyfus said most Australian consumers had little idea about how much of their behaviour was being tracked, packaged, sold and used, and would be shocked to discover how it was secretly affecting them.
"Tiny cameras no one notices can slurp the image your face as you fill up your car with petrol, shop in a mall or use auto checkout at the supermarket. More and more facial slurping is happening all around us," she said.
"The tech isn't about security cameras any more. Now it's about IT systems trying to read your face and moods and then manipulate you into buying more things."
The report, funded by the Consumer Policy Research Centre, also gave examples of repercussions of using data profiles, including discrimination in everything from job ads and mortgages to the price of hotel rooms.
CPRC chief executive Lauren Solomon said the research proved new regulations were needed to help consumers control what information was collected about them, and how they could correct and delete it.
"Unlike credit score laws, what we are seeing is shadow scores which consumers don't have access to and they can't demand corrections," she said. "We need more data transparency."