CookieConsumer: Tracking online behavioural advertising in Australia

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Journal Article

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Mathews-Hunt, K. (2016). CookieConsumer: Tracking online behavioural advertising in Australia. Computer Law & Security Review, 32(1), 55-90.

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© Copyright, 2015 Kate Mathews-Hunt. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved




Online behavioural advertising (OBA) comes to consumers at a price. Often unknowingly, people deliver up commercially-valuable personal information as a condition of online user experience, functionality and access. Websites are increasingly tracking user behaviours for commercial purposes and social media derives its income largely from data collection and advertising targeted to the personal disclosures and behavioural attributes which are its data-production mainstay. In this context, consumers face a plethora of information collection practices, all designed to generate data analytics including inferential and predictive profiling to create a 'digital identity' for OBA purposes. In this subterranean exchange, consumers are economically redefined as data subjects and advertising targets; a reframing which is perhaps why the OBA industry faces a crisis in consumer concern, both as to privacy and trust. This paper proposes that the regulatory control of OBA in Australia is in disarray. Consumer ignorance of online privacy management and OBA practices is demonstrable. Industry transparency, disclosure, consent processes and compliance practices are questionable. Regulator interest is minimal, industry self-regulation is weak and consumer technical ability and personal responsibility is a last fragile line of defence. Data breaches are ubiquitous in a crowded and poorly-audited supply chain, and entail significant adverse consumer consequences. Yet despite these serious concerns, Australian regulators are failing to respond to OBA issues, either through mandating greater industry disclosure or through regulatory action. The author seeks to expose these weaknesses in calling for consumer and privacy regulators to take more meaningful action to better protect consumers' interests online

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