Data Ethics and Regulations in Australia


The new understanding of publicity and personal data has a variety of consequences. On the one hand, a large amount of data on psychological characteristics, information consumption, behavioral models, and much more gives scientists a massive base for analysis. Due to the possibility of collecting a large amount of data, a new interdisciplinary research field has been created. The approaches of mathematics, biology, physics, engineering, economic theory, psychology, sociology, and communication disciplines can be combined. Modern research requires a severe mathematical apparatus since it allows to the process of many empirical observations, building models, and creating forecasts. However, this phenomenon has a downside; some actions with data can be considered injustice, while others can be characterized as fraud. Consumer rights and the law “On consumer rights protection” allow people to fight against abuse by sellers and manufacturers of consumer ignorance. These laws are designed to deter sellers of goods and services from abusing their opportunities when they try to profit by taking advantage of the lack of information from consumers.

Case Study

Manufacturers of Fitbit fitness bracelets received an offer to be bought out by Google. However, after completing the purchase, they were worried that the IT giant would have access to a vast amount of personal data about users’ health. The reason for this was concerns about Google’s misuse of personal data about the health of Fitbit users. It is reported that before the deal was concluded, the regulators of the European antimonopoly organization prepared a 60-page questionnaire for the closest competitors of Google and Fitbit (Butler, 2020). They offered to assess how the deal between the two companies would affect the digital healthcare market. For example, whether it will put other apps at a known disadvantage in the Google-owned Play Store. It was also investigated how a technology company under the leadership of Sundar Pichai will use the personal data received from users for its advertising business. Earlier, the Australian authorities expressed their concerns about the merger of Fitbit and Google. Human rights activists also pointed out that Google can use personal information obtained from Fitbit bracelets to eliminate competitors among similar applications that monitor the user’s well-being.

The Ethical Risks and Issues Associated with the Acquisition

Today, the trend of using body data in the global market space is becoming more and more traced. Digitalization of bodily activity, in turn, transforms the social aspect of interaction, facilitating the communication process itself. There is a vast selection of wearable devices, starting with fitness trackers and ending with smartwatches capable of recording bodily data. They collect information on the pulse, the number of steps, blood oxygen saturation level and circadian rhythms during sleep. Since these devices are constantly on the body, they can measure the dynamics of bodily indicators. Then a particular application is installed on a mobile phone, such as Google Health. It collects daily physical activity from all wearable devices, which further allows them to analyze a person’s bodily data and monitor its changes.

It can be easily predicted how bodily data can become a significant factor in hiring a person because interoceptive awareness allows one to better understand people’s psychophysical states. Moreover, interoceptive sensitivity affects pain assessment (cognitive empathy) and develops a sense of compassion (affective empathy). It is not difficult to model how the use of bodily data marked up by computer algorithms contributes to the acceleration of social interaction. For example, the bank is interested in the specifics of the client’s physical data when applying for a loan or mortgage. Analyzing metrics based on the user’s health status and his social and behavioral trajectories allows optimizing complex business processes.

Multinational corporations such as Google are now increasingly involved in the process of collecting body data. Moreover, storing other personal information contributes to a business model in which digital bodies and personal data implement targeted advertising. The possession of such confidential information can be viewed as a negative factor since these organizations were not democratically elected. Still, the amount of data they have significantly exceeds the amount of data available to State governments. Every day, every hour, smart devices collect personal information about the health of users. However, users have almost no control over how personal data will be used later. This is quite acceptable to the company since, together, these data are worth billions of dollars. Thus, personal information can become the object of use by large businesses.

Medicine turned out to be one of the areas of public life in which digitalization is spreading quite quickly. Biomedical ethics, which has come a long way since its inception, is becoming increasingly relevant, perceiving new challenges and threats from scientific and technological progress. One such threat that requires an adequate ethical response is the emergence of digital medicine, which offers fundamentally new ways of diagnosis. One of the global trends in digital medicine is everything related to biosensors, sensors, and gadgets that allow a person to control the state of his body. In this regard, a new stage of ethical regulation requires work with the achievements of biology, medicine and computer technologies that invade a person’s health.

The electronic-digital mediation of any social relations turns out to be a source of new situations of moral choice that require support from ethics. Firstly, the applied ethics of the digital world should be based on the functioning of effective social institutions. The interaction is becoming increasingly anonymous and, most importantly, systemic. Therefore, the ethics of the behavior of electronic devices about a person is not a matter of personal moral choice of a particular person, but a case of network organization. Secondly, it should rise to a new level of interdisciplinarity, combining bioethics, engineering ethics, business ethics, and political ethics into a single consistent complex. Third, the implementation of ethics in the digital world involves rethinking the concept of human rights. It still underlies the ethical understanding of any topic in the field of high technology. The idea of human rights may not be sufficient for moral regulation in a digital society. Therefore, applied ethics should clarify its social status and ways of implementation in new areas and feel the ability to self-transform in a changing world.

Australian Regulatory Context

The personal data subject grants consent to the use of data for specific purposes to a certain extent. However, it does not guarantee that this data will not be copied and transferred along the chain to third parties for purposes unknown to the customer. This situation explains the zeal of legislators to provide a special regime for the protection of personal data. This is done to avoid the encroachments of any third parties in conditions when the information is removed from the control of its subject.

Ethical regulation of health gadgets should also be based on the concept of human rights and take place in strict accordance with human rights and biomedicine (Australian government, 2018). At the same time, the convention’s provisions should be supplemented by several provisions protecting human rights in the digital age. Ignoring the ethical aspect of health gadgets can lead to a blatant violation of the rights enshrined in the convention.

Article 10 states: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life, including when it concerns information about their health” (Australian government, 2018). Various health devices, accumulating and centralizing information about the health of each person, become a potential source of endless abuse. For example, the Google business structure, with its desire to make a profit, will receive unlimited power in the most important sphere of life for a person.

Also, according to the New Australian government data sharing and release legislation, the main value is the dignity of a person and the integrity of their personality (Australian government, 2018). In this regard, optimistic doctors believe that digital medicine can be considered as highly accurate and individualized, and it meets the convention’s guidelines to the greatest extent. However, the opposite processes of alienation of a person in a digital environment are also possible. In it medicine works not so much with a living being as with a digital personality, with a person represented as a collection of data. Remote collecting health indicators, with all their efficiency and individuality, risks abstracting from the real suffering of the patient, turning into data collection from a machine, not from a person. Medicine as a sphere of social activity deals not with parameters and indicators but with human health, which requires not technical but human support, including moral support.

Moreover, article 21 of the Australian government data sharing and release legislation states that human body data should not become a source of financial enrichment. Respectively, the main goal of digital medicine and health apps and devices should not be profit. Digital medicine can be very profitable for developers of medical information technologies and to a greater extent, business people who see immense profit-making opportunities in this area. When faced with the resistance of the customer in the face of medical institutions, they regard it as a rigid unwillingness to change. At the same time, they are confident that the market will take its course, technologies will inevitably be introduced, and profits will be made. Legislative and ethical restrictions are a big obstacle to the rapid development of digital medicine. However, it is obvious that many issues will be resolved in the near future.

In this regard, the strictest control should be legally prescribed over all aspects of business in the field of digital medicine. By itself, digital medicine does not care about the patient but about the profits of manufacturers and sellers of medical information technologies. From the point of view of social justice, it would be necessary to oblige all those who profit from digital medicine to make significant contributions. These funds will then be directed to the development of the activities of all those whose direct care ensures the recovery of the patient.

The basic human rights in the field of biomedicine, recorded in the New Australian government data must certainly be respected in the field of digital medicine. These are the right to personal integrity and human dignity, the right to the confidentiality of information about one’s health, the right to equal access to medical care. Its transformation from the field of human health care into the sphere of profit-making human health is unacceptable.


Currently, further development in the sports and medical data industry is expected, the commercialization of this area, and an increasing number of subjects in it. The ethics of the use and analysis of data is a question at the intersection of law and ethics, legal and moral and ethical regulators. It is essential to develop in balanced way medical and legal components of the process of using personal data of people involved in sports with the use of gadgets.

The use of personal data in the extensive data array for processing and analysis gives rise to such a category as big personal data or big user data. The Australian legislator will have to establish a legal regime for personal data used as big data. This can be done either through the category of “big personal data” or through improving the procedure for granting consent to the use of personal data.

The legal regime of the data of people involved in sports using gadgets for the medical data industry should combine various rules. These are the rules on the protection of personal data, the rules governing medical secrecy, and the use of publicly available data obtained during public events. It should also be based on the standards and principles of digital technology ethics. It is currently in search of a line between the value of large amounts of data and the protection of the inviolability of a person in a digital environment.


Australian Government: Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. (2018). New Australian government data sharing and release legislation: Issues paper for consultation. Web.

Butler, B. (2020). Google faces a $400m fine over the Fitbit takeover if it doesn’t wait for the competition watchdog’s approval. Web.

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