Privacy complaints jump by 183% in FY14

Complaints rose following publicity about Privacy Act amendments, said the OAIC

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) received 4,239 privacy complaints during FY14, a 183 per cent increase on the 1,496 received in the previous financial year, according to a report.

The <i>OAIC Annual Report 2013-14</i> put the increase in complaints down to heightened public awareness following the Privacy Act amendments and introduction of the Australian Privacy Principles on 12 March, 2014.

The APPs are designed to protect Australians when they share information with government agencies/departments or private sector companies.

“The focus on the reforms, particularly through the media, raised awareness and acted as a reminder to the broader community of their privacy rights,” said Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim in a statement.

The OAIC resolved 2,617 privacy complaints during the 2013-14 period, Pilgrim said.

In October 2013, the OAIC conducted a survey with 1,000 Australians called <i>Community Attitudes to Privacy</i>.

It found that 48 per cent of Australians believe online services, including social media, pose a privacy risk while only 9 per cent of respondents considered social media websites to be trustworthy when it came to protecting their privacy.

The survey also found that consumers want data security protection to be similar in both the public and private sectors. For example, 96 per cent of survey participants expect to be informed if their information is lost by a government agency or public company.

“This [information loss] issue continues to be a challenge for entities covered by the Privacy Act as 51 per cent of people surveyed said that they do not read privacy policies. The OAIC will focus on how to assist entities to make their privacy policies more accessible,” said Pilgrim.

According to the OAIC’s annual report, it received 71 voluntary data breach notifications during FY14, an increase from 61 voluntary data breach notifications in the previous year.

“It is pleasing to see that an increasing number of entities recognised the benefits in notifying not just the OAIC but also their clients,” said Pilgrim.

“In appropriate cases, notification can assist people to take further steps to secure their personal information following a breach and thereby limit any potential harm that could occur. Notification also demonstrates that an entity respects their customers' personal information and thereby strengthens the trust equation in the relationship.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) elected to voluntarily inform the OAIC of a data breach in April 2014 after the addresses of subscribers to some of the ACC's information alert services were published online.

At the time, the consumer watchdog said the Recalls Australia, Product Safety Australia, SCAMwatch and the ACCC Public Registers websites were affected.

"They were not indexed by search engines or linked from a Web page on our sites. They could only be found if specific URLs were tried," the ACCC said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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