Commentary Security

Census says 'Claire' is the typical Aussie and I DID NOT AGREE TO THIS

The Census aggregated data on millions of citizens to find the typical Australian. Turns out it's me. I knew I shouldn't have filled out that form!

abs-census-claire.jpg

The real "Claire" or the "real" Claire?

Image by Claire Reilly/CNET

In August 2016*, I filled out my Census form like everyone else in Australia, lifting the lid on every detail of my life for the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

That's because my name is Claire, and I'm a massive privacy nark.

But after scraping the data on every person in Australia, the ABS has found the typical Aussie. And it turns out it's me.

How did the ABS get through my massive privacy guard?! I cover my Xbox Kinect camera, I block location tracking on every app I use, and I top up my public transport card using cash, in a different newsagent every time, because if you use your credit card, you're a sucker.

But despite all these paranoid behaviours completely ordinary measures, my one weakness is official-looking forms.

I should have known this was coming. When the ABS announced changes to the 2016 Census to retain name and address identifiers for four years, my privacy senses were tingling. But I did what good citizens do and filled the damn thing out.

So imagine my horror when I discovered that I've become the poster child for big data and the aggregated face of the Australian public.

"Meet one of our typical Aussies," the ABS trumpeted today. "Let's call her Claire."

Let's not, ABS.

"She's 38 years old, married with two kids, lives in a home that has three bedrooms, owned with a mortgage and has two vehicles. She's just one of our typical Aussies," the ABS says in its conveniently de-identified video.

English as a first language? Check. Two Australian-born parents? Check. Sure, I'm not 38, I don't have two kids and I've actually been priced out of a housing market that systemically favours baby boomers and overseas owner-investors, but otherwise it's like looking in a mirror.

Ahead of last year's Census, privacy experts warned me "everybody and their dog" would want to get their hands on ABS stats, and the government wanted this kind of "mass information" because "it actually gives a better picture of an individual."

Too bloody right.

When I raised these issues with Census Program Manager Duncan Young in May 2016, he warned against conscientious objection.

"It's unfortunate that their data... isn't going to help create an accurate picture of the country," he said. "I see [non-participation] as a very low risk because the Australian people will trust the census and see its value."

Well you know what ABS? No matter how many apps I switch off, or how many Kinect and laptop cameras I cover, you know exactly who I am.

The full Census data set comes out in June. But it looks like I'm going to have to wrap that tinfoil hat a little tighter from now on.

*Actual date of Census completion redacted for privacy reasons.