Friday, 23 July 2021 10:47

ABC rejects FOIA request for details on data sharing with big tech Featured

ABC rejects FOIA request for details on data sharing with big tech Courtesy Whistleout

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has rejected a Freedom of Information request from a security researcher that sought information on its sharing of data through iview, a service that allows users to see programs that have already been broadcast or, in some cases, which are yet to go to air.

Dr Vanessa Teague, a researcher who runs the infosec outfit Thinking Cybersecurity, lodged a request on 16 June, seeking full information on data-sharing agreements signed by the ABC with third parties who have access to iview data, including Google, Facebook and customer data hub and enterprise tag management firm Tealium, and any other firm to whom the broadcaster has granted access.

In a tweet, Dr Teague said she would be asking for an internal review of the decision on her FOIA request.

She made the request amidst a push by the taxpayer-funded broadcaster to make logins compulsory for iview from 1 July, for reasons that it has not yet fully divulged. An ABC spokesman was only willing to say that this was meant to help users of the service by notifying them of content they were interested in, based on what they had been watching.

Though asked about it, the ABC has been silent as to why the logins were not then made voluntary so that those who did not require this baby-sitting could use iview without having to register.

On 1 July, when asked about the logins, the ABC said the implementation had been put off for at least six months. This statement was made in response to a media query, and was not openly stated on the corporation's website.

Despite the postponement, the ABC is still running promos, fronted by Charlie Pickering, the presenter of the program The Weekly, to lobby viewers to sign up for online accounts.

In response to Dr Teague's request, the ABC said it could not divulge details because the arrangements it had with these companies was exempted under section 45 of the FOI Act because disclosure could lead to legal action against it for breach of confidence.

The response said, in part: "Staff consulted have advised that each of the agreements contain information which was given and received by the ABC on the understanding that it would be treated in confidence.

"The information in the documents has the necessary quality of confidentiality. It is only known to a limited group and is not common knowledge or in the public domain.

"The information in the documents was communicated and received on the basis of a mutual understanding that it would be treated by the ABC as confidential. Each of the documents contain clauses requiring that confidence be maintained."

This puts the ABC in the position of using taxpayer funds to run its operations and denying those same taxpayers details about how the data they leave behind when they use services like iview is used.

Commenting on the decision, Dr Teague said in another tweet: "It is clear someone anticipated our objections to the on-selling (sorry, 'sharing') of our data without our consent, because the agreements themselves explicitly include confidentiality clauses."

The ABC has been contacted for any further comment.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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