Time to tame the Wild Wild Web 

And so it begins. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has kicked off proceedings in the federal court against HealthEngine, alleging the online booking and review platform of misleading and deceptive conduct.

The statement below from HealthEngine’s CEO, Marcus Tan, may feel scarily familiar to other Chief Executives caught short by the rapid pace of technological advancement and growth, but unfortunately this will neither comfort nor placate consumers who, quite rightly, are demanding greater regulation around use of their personal information and greater compliance with Australian Privacy Law.

“HealthEngine recognises that our rapid growth over the years has sometimes outpaced our systems and processes and we sincerely apologise if that has meant we have not always met the high expectations of us.”

At a time when the ACCC has also called for reform of Australia’s privacy laws to inform citizens about how the large digital platforms (particularly Google, Facebook) use their data, it feels like we’re on the precipice of taming the Wild Wild Web.

With the roll out of shared electronic health records across many state hospitals and health services, and the expansion of the My Health Record system earlier this year to more than 90 percent of the population driving us towards better-connected care and consumer access to our health information, this is an exciting time in health care.  So unfortunately, a high-profile legal case claiming abuse of citizens’ personal information by a national health website and app doesn’t exactly help the cause of increasing public trust in personal health information being shared in digital format!

However, the positive is that the HealthEngine case is doing an excellent job of raising the issue of the lack of transparency and consent around the use of consumer data collected online, and highlights to other businesses that there will be serious consequences if they mislead and/or misuse their customer’s personal information. With increasing awareness of what can happen with the information we often unwittingly hand over online, there is greater call for better governance over online collection, sharing and use of consumer data and for more stringent privacy and security regulations.

If ever there was a need to apply an ethical framework to decision-making, it’s now.

Businesses need to take serious stock of their current data governance practices and make sure they meet regulatory, compliance and legal requirements. However, more than that, by combining data ethics with data governance, the right people can make the right decisions about data, fostering a culture that values the ethical collection, management and use of data.

Some people may even choose to sell their own personal health data online at some point.  But key in all of this is personal control, transparency and a culture of ethical business decision-making, supported by appropriate regulation – with these foundations in place, we can create an environment of consumer trust online. It’s time to tame the Wild Wild Web.

Liz Jones Associate Director