Noting that their website does not appear to have either postal or physical addresses, I had lodged an online complaint using their automated system but did not receive the usual automated acknowledgement of receipt.
I telephoned the company direct earlier today. They acknowledged that they had received my response and were investigating. However no information at all would be released until such time as they had posted me a form that I had to return by post. For crying out loud, this is the Internet age. My email address was one of the things that they were selling! I could not even get a straight answer about whether or not my details had been removed from their database.
After raising hell on the telephone, shortly afterwards the following landed in my email:
Dear Mr Hamilton
Thank you for your recent email in regards to your participation in the
Australian Lifestyle Survey.
As per your request we have deleted your details from our database.
We have also organised for confirmation of this to be sent to you via post
as well as including the documentation required for you to send back if you
require copies of your survey responses and a list of any companies supplied
with your details.
Should you have any further queries please don't hesitate to contact me.
First Direct Solutions (A division of Australia Post)
So there we have it. Australia Post have been using their Lifestyles survey to populate this database that is being sold on to apparently whoever wants it. And my details have allegedly been deleted from their database. But the timing of this makes me highly suspicious that I would not have received anything yet if I had not raised hell on the telephone.
The important thing to note is that so far they have refused to provide me with any details of their documentation that accompanies the survey in question, yet it is presumably within that material that the hapless survey respondent is signing away these rights to their privacy.
I have spoken to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Two main things have resulted from that:
1. confirmation they cannot do anything for 30 days after you have first lodged a complaint with the offending company
2. reluctant confirmation that there is apparently nothing stopping the offending company from continuing with its behaviour for that 30 days.
What next? Well I have to wait for this document to arrive in the post. Then it is a pretty safe bet that I am the one who has to wear the costs of getting my name removed from the databases of every other company that First Direct Solutions has sold it to.
But what of the university Associate Professor who started this ball rolling? She has now apologised via email and advises that she was assured that every person on that list she purchased, had agreed to that material being provided.
While typing this entry, another email arrived from First Direct Solutions. This email directed me to http://www.australianlifestyle.com.au, insisting that "you will clearly see in the text on the page (not hidden in any fine print) that the purpose of the survey is for you to voluntarily give your information in order for companies to contact you. This would have been the case when you filled in the survey."
Well, let's have a closer look. Here's the text from the page in question:
G’Day! Welcome to the website of www.australianlifestyle.com.au. We will bring you the latest information on what makes this country a unique and fascinating place to live and makes Australians some of the friendliest people in the world. Australia is renowned around the world for its relaxed lifestyle and tolerant outlook to life. Our attitudes to life and our fashion, food, sports, music, entertainment and work, are what makes Australia a special place. You’d love it here, we do.
The world has an image of Australia as a land of wide open spaces and wonderful animals. A rural landscape inhabited by people such as Paul Hogan’s "Crocodile Dundee” of the “put another shrimp on the barby” commercials and the late Steve Irwin’s “Crikey”. In fact we are a highly urbanized country that produces Noble Prize winning scientists, world-class sportsmen and entertainers, writers, and businesspeople. Our ready acceptance of immigrants from all parts of the world has produced a vivacious cosmopolitan culture. This culture manifests itself into the food we eat, the music we listen to, the films we watch, and the sports we play; such as Australian rules, cricket, rugby, basketball, tennis, and golf.
Australianlifestyle.com.au, will seek to present to you the latest information and insights about what makes Australian culture unique as well as provide a forum to discuss the latest events and developments.
Australian Rules football, Cricket, Rugby, Basketball, Tennis, Golf, Swimming, Grand Prix , Horse Racing.
Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, German, Indian, Korean, Colombian, Mexican, English, Vietnamese, Thai, Greek.
Pop, Classical music, Rock 'n Roll, Jazz, Hip-hop, Country, Contemporary, Swing, Latin,
Quintessential Australian films such as Crocodile Dundee, The Castle, Muriel's Wedding, Gallipoli, Picnic at Hanging Rock as well as more current and edgier films such as Saw, and comedy with bite such as the film Kenny.
Designers, Alex Perry , Alice Mcall , Anna & Boy, Bowie Wong , Camilla , Lisa Ho, Peter Alexander.
Art and Literature
Artists, Paintings - Sculpture - Drawings - Photography – Authors , Poetry
Tourist destinations, historical sites
We would value your contribution to this website and if there is anything you would like us to expand upon, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you believe that you have relevant and interesting information or content on the above themes or if you would like to advertise on this website, please contact us on email@example.com.
Now I am admittedly a short-sighted so-and-so, but I am blowed if I can see anything here that states "...the purpose of the survey is for you to voluntarily give your information in order for companies to contact you." In fact I can't see anything remotely like it before. What's more, I have no recollection of ever even seeing this page before. Let me be more explicit - if anyone can see where this data does make any such statement, then I'll bare my bum in Myer's front window (or Grace Brothers). Now this information may be buried elsewhere in the website, but it sure as shit ain't presented as
Oh - and the latest response still insists that they have to mail documents to me. But they have sweetened the deal by offering a reply paid envelope to return this material that they assure me I should have in five days. Five days! An email would have a copy of the document in my in-box in nanoseconds!
Stay tuned as I have a sneaking suspicion that this saga is going to get sillier.