An inquiry has begun to ascertain what personal information the tech giants are gathering on their Australian consumers.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on February 21, 2018

Under the direction of the federal government, Australia’s consumer watchdog is investigating Facebook and Google over its information gathering.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims says he suspects the tech giants are accessing and storing a lot more of their users’ personal information than the public is aware of, and when it is revealed people will be shocked.

“Some people have asserted that consumers know what’s going on and don’t care,” Mr Sims said.

“I think it’s absolutely crucial we find out what consumers do know and then let’s see whether they care.

“My suspicion is Facebook and Google have much more personal information about people than people realise.

“Whether that is right, we’ll need to test. Whether people are concerned about that, we’ll need to test.

“My intuition tells me people will be concerned. Most people are fairly private.”

The ACCC will be asking consumers how much they think Facebook and Google knows about them, and comparing that to what it finds is actually being gathered.

Whether or not the information being collected has been done so in a transparent way, will be another line of investigation.

Data gathering is used by platforms to help place personalised advertising, and last month CNBC cited the Princeton Web Transparency & Accountability Project in revealing that 76% of websites now contain hidden Google trackers, and 24% have hidden Facebook trackers.

“As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on each person, which can include your interests, purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more,” Gabriel Weinberg — CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo — wrote in a commentary piece for the news agency.

“They then make your sensitive data profile available for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the internet.

“As a result, they now make up 63% of all digital advertising, and accounted for 74% of this market’s growth in 2017, according to eMarketer. Together they form a tight digital advertising duopoly, showing no signs of abating.”

Together they form a tight digital advertising duopoly, showing no signs of abating.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Alphabet Inc’s Google drives 89% of internet search, and 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook Inc product, such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.

The inquiry — which Sims expects will be the broadest of its type in the world — will also look at whether the digital platforms have misused their market power in commercial dealings, plus their impact on the “quality and choice of news”.

Speaking on The Today Show this morning, tech expert Trevor Long warned the inquiry is likely to find that the consumer is being exposed only to the news these digital giants want us to know about.

“[Facebook and Google] control what we see, and most of us get our news through Facebook and Google… so there’s a concern they are able to filter what we get and determine what we see and when we see it,” he said.

“They are collecting information on every single website we go to, and the ACCC is concerned that we don’t realise that. The ACCC think and wonder whether or not Australians are actually going to be surprised by the amount of information that Facebook and Google have about us.”