Privacy sweep underway for popular websites

OAIC will search 50 websites to assess the content of privacy policies

Fifty of the most popular websites visited by Australians will be searched by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to see if their privacy policies can be easily understood and accessed.

OAIC has not disclosed which websites will be swept. The privacy policies will be considered to see how the 50 visited sites rate against the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) which will come into law on March 2014. APP 1 covers the open and transparent management of personal information.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said that an easy to understand privacy policy is one way that organisations can assist people to exercise control over their own information.

“This is even more important in an online environment where personal information is sometimes used in ways that individuals may not expect,” he said.

Pilgrim added that the OAIC will use the results of the website search to develop guidance on the APP requirements and to educate organisations about privacy policies.

“The changes include a requirement for privacy policies to include more information about how personal information is handled. In order to be compliant with the new laws, every organisation is going to have to review their privacy policies,” he said.

The results of the Australian privacy sweep, with a list of the 50 websites, will be released later in 2013.

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Social networking site Facebook has been criticised for its privacy policies such as the introduction of facial recognition on photos in June 2011.

Sophos Asia Pacific head of technology, Paul Ducklin, told Computerworld Australia at the time that the site did not notify users when it made privacy changes.

"Do they expect you to review your privacy settings all the time? It's outrageous that they keep changing the [privacy] conditions. If you're on vacation and not using the Internet or happen to be in hospital than tough luck. For all you know that [facial recognition] option could be on the whole time,” he said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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