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Website privacy policy statements and the changing face of e-commerce

Mark Berthold

Parts 1 and 2 appear in this issue, Part 3 in the next.

E-commerce and its challenge to privacy is hardly a decade old. Only during that period has cyberspace become generally navigable, through the introduction of hyperlinks and browser software. Before then, the documents stored on individual computers were not readily accessible from other devices by non-specialists. The development of the World Wide Web has been accompanied by ubiquitous and initially mysterious clickstream technologies deployed to collect personal data with unprecedented efficiency. As a result, the exponential growth in e-commerce has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the trade in the personal data of website visitors. But the element of surprise is almost spent. Regulators and the consumers they represent are regrouping. Websites are now accountable for their practices. In Australia no less than elsewhere in the global economy, creating and implementing a website privacy policy has become both a business and legal necessity. Factors include:

Website privacy policy statements (`privacy notices') play a key role whether online `privacy' is considered a human right, as a tradeable commodity, or as an issue that needs to be addressed if e-commerce is to flourish. Not posting a website privacy notice is only an option for the indeterminate number of small businesses which will not be subject to the Privacy Act and which wish to ignore consumer concerns. Once uploaded, not only the Privacy Act but also the fair trading requirements of the Trade Practices Act and common law duties come into play in requiring adherence to the privacy policies the website proclaims.

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