While many of the proposed amendments to upcoming laws on data privacy are supported by experts there are some which could have serious implications for small-to medium-sized business owners.

The Australian Government is currently looking for feedback from business on proposed reforms of the Privacy Act.

These reforms aim to modernise a 1988 Act and address the growing concerns about data privacy and security.

Just over a week remains for businesses to provide their feedback prior to the end of the consultation period. The feedback received will be used to develop new legislation that is expected to come before Parliament in the second half of this year.

The Privacy Act Review Report released by the Attorney General’s Department was a comprehensive analysis of the Privacy Act 1988.

The review was undertaken to identify areas in which the Act could have been strengthened and modernised, to better protect the privacy of individuals and to ensure that the regulatory environment remains appropriate for the times.

The report included a number of reform recommendations, including changes in the definition of personal data, new privacy rights and the creation of a privacy regulator. The report also emphasized the need for more support to be provided to small and medium sized businesses in order to comply with new requirements under Privacy Act.

The proposed overhaul contains measures that will strengthen the protection and control of personal data. These measures include mandatory notification of data breaches, increased privacy consent requirements and increased penalties for noncompliance.

There are concerns, however, that the proposed changes could be a burden to SMBs with limited resources and expertise in data security.

Many business groups and industry associations have called for SMBs to receive more guidance and support to help them comply with new regulations without undue hardship.

The proposed reforms will benefit the individual by strengthening privacy protection. However, it is still unclear how they will affect businesses, particularly SMBs.

Daniel Stoten is the Executive Chairman at Localsearch. He believes that the industry needs additional consultations and support structures. This is especially true for small- and medium-sized business (SMBs).

He feels that the proposed requirements for compliance could be a burden on SMBs who are already struggling because of the pandemic. He recommends that SMBs be provided with more support and structures in order to meet the new compliance requirements without being put under undue strain.

Stoten explains “Localsearch is committed to consumer protection and responsible marketing. We understand the rationale behind the proposal, given the widespread concern about cybersecurity after last year’s major breaches at Optus and Medibank.

“However we believe that further consultation and additional support streams for SMBs is needed to support the Industry, as the Compliance requirements in particular could be a major burden to businesses who are already struggling,” says Stoten

Removing exemption

Previously, the Privacy Act exempted businesses with a turnover of less than $3 million. This exemption will be removed in the proposed changes.

Stoten: “We ask the government to make it clear to small businesses what’s happening, so that they don’t accidentally do something they shouldn’t. It is important to have adequate training, and perhaps even a grace period for compliance to make the transition easy with minimum costs.

Small business owners have already been struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic, including inflation, supply-chain issues and a tight labor market. According to our 2022 Australian Small Business Report, 78% of SMBs fear a recession in 2019.

This is a 300-page proposal that is complex. Your average Mum-and Dad business will not have the resources or time to read it, much less understand and implement the changes.

Digital advertising changes proposed

The Review proposes further changes in the areas of direct marketing, trading and targeting which could have an impact on the way digital advertising operates.

Stoten states: “The ability of harnessing data about individuals to better digitally and individually target advertising based on preferences and past behaviors has been one the most significant developments in this industry’s history.

Digital retargeting is an important business tool for small businesses, which may not have the budget to use traditional advertising to reach their customers.

This is not without consequences, even though we support the right of consumers to opt out of targeted advertising. This could lead to irrelevant ads being advertised to the wrong people and wasting both business owners’ investment and consumers’ valuable time.

We won’t be able to know the exact impact of the Review until after the federal government makes a decision. However, it is obvious that small businesses will be severely affected. Localsearch encourages businesses to voice their opinions via , the simple form on the government’s website.

Stoten concludes, “I am certain that many of the 2,5 million small business owners who already struggle to stay afloat in Australia will be seriously harmed by some of the changes proposed.” Some would not be able survive.”

The Attorney-General’s Department is encouraging businesses to provide feedback on the 116 proposed changes before the March 31st deadline.