New Zealanders have little idea how their personal
information - including on household income and ethnicity -
is collected and sold, a government watchdog warns.
The Privacy Commissioner wants powers to monitor companies
that collect and sell personal information.
"Data brokers" collect publicly available information and
personal details gathered by other means, including surveys
doubling as prize giveaways.
They may know details about you or your household, including
ethnicity, property value, what foods you buy and how often
One of the world's largest data brokers, Acxiom, has a New
Zealand operation in nondescript offices on Karangahape Rd in
Another information source is your postie - NZ Post's Genius
segmentation tool enables household profiling by income and
Assistant Privacy Commissioner Blair Stewart said the Privacy
Act was now enforced by way of complaint.
His office has backed a Law Commission recommendation that
the law be changed so the Privacy Commissioner can serve
compliance notices on companies.
"People don't tend to complain about certain practices, if
the sort of practices go on in the background and they can't
see what's happening."
That view was supported by Auckland University Business
School's Gehan Gunasekara, a specialist in information
privacy law, who said the law did not cover such practices.
It did not recognise, for example, that privacy could apply
to groups, or that some information was more personal than
"New Zealanders are giving away far too much information
about themselves, not really knowing what it's going to be
used for," he said.
Several companies in New Zealand sell access to information
on individuals or, more commonly, households.
NZ Post's Genius tool divides New Zealand addresses into
clusters and segments described by more than 1000 data
A sample map on NZ Post's website shows the Auckland suburb
of Sandringham in the bright yellow of "Rice and Shine"
homes, while Mt Roskill has more "Pacific Blend" light blue.
The Rice and Shine group has a "strong skew towards Asian
ethnicity" and spends "above average on cars and smash
Genius is built from a variety of data sources, including NZ
Post's own national surveys.
Another operator is Mosaic NZ, which uses data from the
census, QV, Land Information New Zealand and surveys done by
market research company Roy Morgan.
Most mid- to large-size companies, as well as charities such
as the Fred Hollows Foundation, use data brokers.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff raised concerns about NZ
Post's first national survey, in 2009, saying people were
confused about whether it was compulsory.
Nigel Paxton, head of the NZ Post division that includes
Genius and direct marketing, said organisations had the legal
right to target certain people.
"The key thing for any commercial organisation is that if
it's operating within the law, then please don't confront
them with moral issues," Mr Paxton said.
The Government is expected to respond to the Law Commission's
recommendations next month. - The New Zealand Herald