New privacy laws ban ads targeted at children, sale of data

New laws will prohibit companies from targeting ads at children and selling their private data under the most sweeping reforms made to Australia’s privacy act in decades.

The changes, which will be announced on Wednesday, will also require companies to obtain the “informed consent” of users when handling their personal data.

Reforms come after a wide-ranging review of the Privacy Act led by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, which put forward hundreds of major proposals in February.

Mr Dreyfus had previously called for “urgent reforms” to the decades-old privacy laws following a series of back-to-back major leaks from large companies that compromised the personal data of millions of Australians.

Under the new changes, online businesses will be legally required to “recognise the best interests of the child when handling their personal information”.

This means smartphone apps must give obvious signs when using location tracking on those under the age of 18, and only allow information to be accessible to others if the child enables it in their phone settings.

More than a third of kids aged under 12 in Australia own their own smartphone, according to research published in Finder’s Parenting Report.

An estimated 537,000 kids across the country use the online platform TikTok, which has been widely scrutinised for its use of ‘hidden advertising’ on young people.

As part of the new reforms, the federal government will introduce a ‘children’s online privacy code,’ which will most likely force companies to overhaul their existing marketing and tech policies.

The new code would apply to all online services used by children, and will be based on laws introduced in the United Kingdom in 2021.

It will prohibit the use of “nudge” techniques aimed at encouraging kids to give up more of their privacy than they would choose to, and urge companies to minimise the amount of data they collect about children.

TikTok was fined $15.7m by the UK government in April under its children’s privacy code after it was alleged the app did not do enough to prevent underage users creating accounts on the platform.

Similar laws in Australia are expected to be introduced to federal parliament in 2024.

Overall, the federal government agreed to 38 of the 116 proposals put forward by the Attorney-General.  

The majority of reforms rejected included the removal of privacy exemptions for political parties, which was made on the basis of free speech, according to a government spokesperson. 

The changes will mark the greatest reforms made to Australia’s privacy act, with only two amendments made to the legislation since it first became law in 1988.

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