Australian call centres, privacy & data storage

Australian Consumers need trustworthy and transparent information from all Australian Service Providers/Businesses advising where their Call Centres are based, if they have Call Centres overseas and where businesses store customers data either in Australia or Off Shore.

There needs to be a database somewhere where consumers can locate this information easily so consumer have the choice where they want their services provided from and information stored.

Consumers have the right to know this information about all products and services they purchase in Australia. Is there any such reputable list/database anywhere online? If not who could provide this information for the Australian Consumer… Choice would be a trustworthy organisation… Thoughts?

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Hi @AusMade, welcome to the community.

In relation to your post, what concerns do you have if a business uses an overseas call centre and where data the business may have is stored? I take it from the title that you may believe that there may be privacy or security risks of using overseas call centres compared to using an Australian/onshore call centres (either inhouse or outsourced through third party contracted services).

The second point is in relation to the broader picture of where business data may be held, it is likely that most businesses will have some of their data stored overseas if they operate in the online world. Many business using overseas call centres may still critical data in Australia, but provided controlled access to the call centre. What level of detail is required and what purpose would it serve to a consumer?

The third point is the information you seek only from Australian businesses or any business which has the potential to operate in Australia (I use the term potential as with the internet, it is possible to have a relationship with any business anywhere in the world). Not including every business which has the potential to operate in Australia as the potential to disadvantage Australian businesses…as overseas businesses would not be required to provide such information and consumers may believe incorrectly what the absence of the information means.

And the fourth point, what about business information on customers which is stored overseas, do you have the same concerns with such data if it isn’t part of a call centre (this follows on from the second point).

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A company may have more than one call centre, and the locations may be diverse. (Even occasionally this may be a good thing e.g. if the call centre needs to be available 24 hours a day.)

The call centre function may be outsourced in which case the information is theoretically unknown to the company.

In any case, but particularly where outsourcing applies …

this database will rapidly become out of date. Who is going to pay to keep it up to date?

Unless this is backed by legislation (i.e. legal compulsion), there is no easy or reliable way of getting this information. Choice won’t be able to get it.

I’ve never been particularly concerned about where the call centre is. I am concerned about whether I can understand them, whether they can understand me, whether they have the background information to know what I’m talking about, whether the person is completely clueless and just following a script, how long I have to wait to get to speak to someone, whether they actually sort out my problem, …

As a result of the pandemic, some companies saw the light and there has been a small move towards on-shoring.

If the truth be told, sometimes call centres are designed to ensure that your problem doesn’t get sorted out, and that was a problem long before call centres moved off shore.

These days the move is towards self-service and chat-bots and chat-humans anyway.

(The other day I rang a company via their call centre. The main menu offered n options. I tried n-1 of the options and they all terminated without my actually getting to get to speak to a human being, instead offering various combinations of a) email us b) leave a message c) self-service via their web site. It wasn’t even possible to abort and go back to the main menu, so that pointless exercise cost me n-1 phone calls. After that, I gave up with their call centre. As I didn’t ever get to speak to a human, this is really an IVR problem rather than a call centre problem. So it’s a “dark pattern” in the IVR.)

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Who is going to pay and update it?
Maybe this could be looked at when a Business first registers for an ABN, when change details are advised to ASIC.
Businesses are providing these services they could be responsible for providing this information and pay for it and ASIC could regulate it. It would assist in helping stop scams, better with peoples mental health and people would feel more secure making transactions online.
Who knows might keep more business in Australia and create more jobs in Australia
It is in consumers interests and the public should know where ALL call centres are located and should be law I believe. That should be transparent and not hidden
It is not all about the $$$, its about helping people make a Choice and the Choice which is right for them

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That of course only works for Australian businesses.

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I understand from this comment that it applies only to business which operate in Australia and have ABNs. There are many businesses which operate in Australia which don’t have ABNs but have call centres and keep information on their customers. These include booking sites, foreign service providers and financial services (such as some credit card providers who you may be connected with if one loses a card, especially when travelling).

Only keeping information on lists for businesses with ABNs may unfairly advantage those foreign (multinational) without ABNs. In the public eye, it may advantage those not on the ‘list’ as a consumer could easily make the wrong assumption.

I am unsure how this would help scams. If we try and argue that there is a higher risk existed from an overseas call centre, they would have similar similar to outsourced (and possibly inhouse) call centres as they would have access to the same information. Australia has criminals looking to profiteer no differently to other countries.

Also, there are many internet conspiracies about foreign call centres being the origin of scams…such as they scam the same customers in their down time using information they have. These are conspiracies/internet myths. Scam call centres usually robocall numbers or use information publicly available (such as from publicly available online information or though data breaches) to perpetuate their scams.

Mental health, I am not sure how having a incomplete list of some businesses in Australia would improve mental health. In some ways, it may create more confusion especially when the list is incomplete as outlined above.

Possibly could create more jobs, but, call centres are known to have a large turnover of staff (churn) due to the working environment. In additional to churns, if it is a part time call centre, then it is likely that existing staff would take on additional workload responding to phone enquiries in their spare time. This churn and resulting impact on employees may reduce the overall argument of job creation.

Furthermore, some of the commercial call centres provide services for international companies (outside Australia). If Australia adopts a law which seems to push to onshore call centres, then other countries would also reciprocate. When they reciprocate, there is potential to be to corresponding job losses in local call centres which currently provide international call centre services.

Isn’t far more important that call centres are required to abide by Australian and relevant other sovereign laws, when they can be used by Australian consumers. If it is an Australian business, no matter where the call centre is located, they already need to operate in compliance with Australian laws. So having a list may have little benefit to the consumer as businesses operating in Australia already are required to meet Australian laws.

I have seen arguments about difficulties in understanding overseas call centre ascents etc, but this is also a misnomer as Australia is a multicultural society providing job opportunities for all. There is a high potential that a call centre based in Australia will have personnel with ascents.

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It isn’t something that keeps me awake at night. There are far more pressing issues in the world, in my opinion, including data sovereignty, as indeed mentioned by you, but even then it’s not my biggest worry.

I think you will have a hard time convincing the government to make this legally true.

About the only argument that you could put to government is one of supply chain standards. That is, you might be able to convince the government that all Australian companies must only use foreign suppliers that conform to Australian standards e.g. labour standards (conditions for workers) etc. In my opinion though this is legally and morally questionable, even if you could interest the Australian government.

Ironically, this is now true (as I think you go on to say). There are foreign call centres that are dedicated to running scams i.e. this is basically just organised crime. It is unclear to what extent the low-level people who work in the call centres are complicit in this. They might think that they really are calling on behalf of “Telstra” or “NBN”. However that typically has no overlap with call centres that actually do operate on behalf of legitimate businesses.

I think that to a first approximation you can tell them apart with:

they called you => it’s a scam

you called them1 => it’s legitimate

1 on a phone number that you have independently verified as correct

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on a phone number that you have independently verified as correct…

doesnt always work either. legitimate calls from insurance companies phone you on unidentied numbers and will not verify their details with you so you know it is them calling, you phone back to discover that it was actually the insurance company and in the meantime you have wasted hours! …

Mental Health…
maybe some people dont want their data or want overseas call centres either and this creates anxiety for them…

All I’m saying the information should be available and transparent and people are entiled to Choice and information transparent!

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Are you saying that as consumers we are not all the same?
Some of us are worldly and outgoing and confident.
Some of us are more reserved but capable.
Some of us are more withdrawn, shy, cautious, less confident.
And then there are a great many who have varying differences in capacity to respond or deal with our challenging modern world.

To many businesses us consumers are treated all the same.
And business expects us all to understand and accept their standards or requirements, regardless of who or how we are.

In todays Australia the options of choice vary. In the instance of many essential services the options are few or each mimics the other.

I HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT DEALING WITH ANY ORGANISATION THAAT HAS AN OVERSEASE CALL CENTRE. Most of all I find it difficult to understand them even when they are talking English, but with a heavy accent, and secondly I worry about the safety or our data when stored overseas.

Then technically it is not the location of the call centre that is important, but rather the standard of spoken English. You could have an overseas call centre where the workers on average speak better English than the average Australian - and conversely you could staff an Australian call centre with people whom you will struggle to understand.

It is important also to come back to:

These days the move is towards self-service and chat-bots and chat-humans anyway.

In other words, combined with some limited on-shoring that has happened, you might be solving yesterday’s problem.

As far as chat-humans go, the problem / question changes from “can the person speak English?” to “can the person write English?”.

In my recent extensive interactions with chat-humans at Optus, the standard of written English seemed to be less of a problem.

Notice also that it is much easier for computer software to mediate the conversation in real-time, fixing up any errors from the chat-humans (easier as compared with a spoken conversation). So perhaps expect standards to improve further over time.

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A first level customer support center is a business function. As is a second level technical support center.

There is little relationship between where these functions are located, and where business applications run on IT systems, and where data is stored.

In these days of IT and ‘the cloud’ the applications and data could be anywhere in the world but the customer support is in Australia using backpackers and foreign students with limited English skills who are prepared to work part time for minimum wage, or less.

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