I’ve just had a pretty amazing experience. We moved house and as a result an error was made and our previously silent number was “unsilented”. This occurred on Friday. It wasn’t until 8pm tonight that I was able to remove my number from the electronic white pages after 3-4 hours worth of phone calls to the telecommunications provider and the white pages.
What has made this pretty amazing has been the discussions with the TIO and the Privacy Commission. As anybody with a pulse in Australia is aware, Google sampled some open frequency networks that people were dumb enough to be publishing, and Senator Conroy labelled this as “the greatest privacy breach in history” (or some such political rubbish). Now, even ignoring the fact that these people were literally doing the equivalent of digitally shouting all their information to anybody who was interested in hearing it, it’s clear that Conroy has a bone to pick with Google after they basically called him a drooling retard. I doubt many people in Australia would disagree with that assessment.
Now, compare this with my situation where we pay a fee for a service to keep our information private, and as a result of incompetence within the organisation that organisation has published my own information to the world. I don’t know about anybody else, but this seems to me to be a bigger breach of privacy than somebody listening in to people screaming their private data to anybody who stands still long enough.
Speaking with the TIO it was clear that they would become involved (and were very happy to take my complaint) should the provider not address the issue. However, so long as there was some “action” being taken (even if it was ham-fisted and took forever) then they were considered acting appropriately. Taking 5 days to resolve a privacy issue caused by one of the staff is clearly a “reasonable” response. Remember this boys and girls, having a shit process with incompetent staff is ok. Earnestly doing things (clearly a “tries really hard button”) regardless of effacacy is also ok.
The Privacy Commission was very similar. As I’d spent some time reading the comprehensive website – as well as the 2009 results of complaints I wasn’t really all that hopeful, but I wanted to ensure my understanding of the legislation was correct. The PC is set up again as a mediator for disputes, it’s not there as an advocate but the great news is that the operator that I spoke to was very knowledgeable, articulate and friendly. She confirmed my suspicions – that unless a gang of thugs have descended onto our house and proceeded to shave the cats and smother them with butter – there’s fuck all we can do about it. The most likely outcome from the company is an apology. “We’re really sorry we fucked up and took 5 days to fix something that exposed your family to risk by giving out your private information – gosh – too bad’. What’s even more interesting is that it’s really up to me to take it any further which would involve making a complaint in writing and giving the company 30 days to respond. If I don’t like the response, then the PC will accept the complaint and assess it. Now, all of this is on my own cost, and I can’t even recoup the many hours I spent on the phone attempting to address the issue. Amazing.
The legislation doesn’t have a schedule of fines, so unlike me speeding down the freeway – the results of the company breaching the Telecommunications Act of 1997, and the National Privacy Principles – they get away completely unblemished. Of course, there’s “reputational damage” – but let’s face it, banks, insurance companies and telecommunications companies already have completely shit reputations anyway – so it’s not like they are heading too much further downhill. Let me repeat that – the company breached the Telecommunications Act of 1997 and the NPP and NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. Next time you get a parking or speeding fine have a good long think about how fair that is.
I hope it’s been an interesting (if not very uplifting) read, but it also cements in my mind how much of a complete douchebag Conroy is with his political grandstanding. If he followed the NPP in the same way that I have to – each person who allegedly had their privacy breached would have to contact Google independently, and then Google has a month to respond, which may result in a “sorry about that chaps”.
People (like myself) who have actually had their privacy breached have very, very little recourse, very little ability to reclaim the many hours of lost time and frustration and very little chance of a positive outcome addressing the core issues – unless of course maybe somebody in my family was attacked and injured. Don’t think about this so much for people like myself, think about single mothers escaping abusive ex-spouses, people in real and immediate danger then think to yourself how much this sucks.