This week in data – August 10th

It may be August 10th but #Censusfail 2016 is far from over.

Yesterday as the ABS team tried to recover from a horror week of media, a series of ‘denial of service (DoS) attacks’ caused major outages, eventually leading to the shutdown of the website. It was one of the worst possible outcomes for the beleaguered ABS, fueling further privacy fears and frustration for the Australian public.

Given the media chaos over the past week, particularly the past 24 hours, we thought it only fitting that we dedicate this week’s blog to (you guessed it), Census 2016.

The great privacy debate

As a growing number of Senators and privacy advocates announced a boycott of the Census earlier this week, the media went into overdrive reporting on so-called ‘secret plans’ to match data. The plans, of course, weren’t secret at all. The ABS had already publicly outlined their intent to use de-identified keys for attribute matching, in order to deliver more accurate longitudinal analysis.

The media scare-mongering reached fever pitch when parallels were drawn with Nazi Germany and the old ‘what if’ post-apocalyptic fantasies emerged.

Privacy and the ethical application of data are issues which we at Data Republic feel very strongly about, so we couldn’t help but feel frustrated this week as the ABS failed to own the very important conversation with the Australian public that it had started.

It was a chance to educate the public on the massive productivity and socio-economic benefits that can be delivered from data, to explain the best-practice de-identification methods already being used by enterprises and governments (and companies like Facebook, Google and Data Republic) around the world. It was a chance to acknowledge that our personal information (PI) has value to us, and to demonstrate what the exchange of that value could deliver in utility for the people of Australia. The ABS failed to explain why they need to tokenize and hold PI longer and then failed to deliver on appropriate security infrastructure.

The fallout from the ABS’ poor communication and public education strategy and the media sensationalism it spawned will no doubt continue in the coming weeks as the ABS grapples with security questions related to the hacks.

For us at Data Republic, we’re left wondering whether enough Australians will actually complete the Census in the wake of so much controversy.

  • Will there be enough viable Census data?
  • Will the ABS need to undergo major changes following #Censusfail?
  • How has the dialogue on privacy and data shifted among the Australian public?

These are all questions we’ll need to wait to find out.

Until next week.

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