Direct marketing to vulnerable individuals

26.142 Concerns have been raised about the practice of sending direct marketing communications to vulnerable people in the community. For example, direct marketing may pose a particular risk to children, young people and adults with a decision-making disability because their cognitive faculties may be less developed than those of other people, making it more likely that they will be manipulated. Changes to the ‘Direct Marketing’ principle to make further provision in respect of direct marketing to children and young people are discussed above.

26.143 Direct marketing can be insensitive where an error in a personal information database causes direct marketing communications to be sent, for instance, to a grieving friend or relative of a deceased individual. One individual stated that it can be traumatic to receive direct marketing communications addressed to her late husband, and this should be rectified by requiring organisations involved in direct marketing to update their databases regularly.[178] The ALRC Phone-In also received a number of calls stating that direct marketing can be frightening for older people.

26.144 The question arises whether reform is desirable to address these issues. In DP 72, the ALRC proposed that the most appropriate mechanism to alleviate this problem would be guidance issued by the OPC about direct marketing to particularly vulnerable individuals.[179] The ALRC also proposed that the OPC should issue guidance to organisations engaged in direct marketing to highlight their obligations in relation to data quality, and assist them with information on how best to fulfil those obligations.

Submissions and consultations

26.145 The provision of guidance in respect of particularly vulnerable individuals was supported by the majority of stakeholders who commented on the issue.[180] Some stakeholders called for a stronger response in respect of direct marketing to children and young people.[181]

26.146 Some concern was expressed by stakeholders about the proposal for OPC guidance in respect of data quality obligations in the context of direct marketing. For example, Acxiom submitted that, while it would be beneficial for the OPC to develop guidance relating to an organisation’s responsibility to maintain the quality of any database containing personal information, ‘this guidance should apply to all organisations that are subject to the UPPs, not solely to organisations that use personal information for direct marketing’.[182] GE Money submitted that it was not clear why the proposed ‘Data Quality’ principle would not be a sufficient general standard and why organisations involved in direct marketing require specific guidance on issues relating to data quality.[183]

ALRC’s view

26.147 The OPC should issue guidance to help organisations understand better how to direct market appropriately to vulnerable individuals. In particular, this guidance should help to clarify the obligations of an organisation when dealing with vulnerable people, such as the elderly, individuals with a decision-making disability and individuals under the age of 15.[184]

26.148 The focus of guidance in the context of direct marketing to children and young people should be on consent and, specifically, when it will be impracticable to seek consent. The interpretation of these concepts is critical to ensuring that privacy protection in the context of direct marketing to children and young people is preserved.

26.149 Where communication by direct marketing can itself be traumatic—for example, where communications are addressed to a deceased individual and received by that individual’s grieving friend or relative—the issue relates most directly to the ‘Data Quality’ principle. As discussed in Chapter 27, the ‘Data Quality’ principle requires that all personal information that is collected, used or disclosed by an agency or organisation be ‘accurate, complete, up-to-date and relevant’. It is not necessary, therefore, for the OPC to provide guidance with respect to data quality obligations as they relate to direct marketing.

[178] A Baxter, Submission PR 74, 5 January 2007.

[179] See Australian Law Reform Commission, Review of Australian Privacy Law, DP 72 (2007), Proposal 23–6.

[180] Australian Bankers’ Association Inc, Submission PR 567, 11 February 2008; Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Submission PR 548, 26 December 2007; Optus, Submission PR 532, 21 December 2007; Law Council of Australia, Submission PR 527, 21 December 2007; Australian Communications and Media Authority, Submission PR 522, 21 December 2007; Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Submission PR 499, 20 December 2007; Legal Aid Queensland, Submission PR 489, 19 December 2007; ANZ, Submission PR 467, 13 December 2007; Australia Post, Submission PR 445, 10 December 2007; Australasian Compliance Institute, Submission PR 419, 7 December 2007.

[181] Liberty Victoria—Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, Submission PR 540, 21 December 2007; Obesity Policy Coalition, Submission PR 506, 20 December 2007.

[182] Acxiom Australia, Submission PR 551, 1 January 2008.

[183] GE Money Australia, Submission PR 537, 21 December 2007.

[184]This will need to be consistent with other guidance for children and young people: see Chs 68, 69.