Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing coalition’s submission in response to the Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures) Bill 2021

8 Dec, 2021

What is the Bill?

The Bill paves the way for the introduction of an Online Privacy Code. The Code will apply to three types of organisation, social media platforms, data brokers and other larger online platforms. If passed in parliament, the code once developed, would be enforced through the current regulatory powers held by the Australian Information Commissioner and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Why is it Important?

The online world presents many risks for young people’s mental health, from cyberbullying to unrealistic body ideals. It can expose them to risky behaviours, increased commercial and social pressures and relentless content exposure. A strong focus on data protection can reduce risks and help make the digital world a better place for children and young people. 

The Coalition

InsideOut Institute together with Reset Australia spearheaded the formation of a coalition of organisations concerned about the implications of privacy and data use on the mental health of Australia’s children and young people. In consultation, many areas of risk were identified over a broad spectrum of mental health. The prepared joint submission broadly supports the bill and the need for regulation in the use of data whilst identifying specific recommendations to enhance the bill further.

Why this is Particularly Important for Eating Disorders

In consultation with young people with lived experience of eating disorders, InsideOut identified multiple problems with the use of children and young people’s data and the risks this creates to the development and maintenance of eating disorders including;

  • Profiling via the use of data (web search history, social media posts, content views etc) can expose children and young people to advertising for apps and products that may seem helpful and ‘healthy’ but instead fuel the discorded behaviours and beliefs involved in developing eating disorders. This is specifically relevant to children who are less able to distinguish between advertising and information in digital context.
  • Recommending content based on current viewing or search history can re-enforce unrealistic body ideals and lead to the promotion of disordered eating and behaviours, as well as leading to harmful communities and friend suggestions. This access to harmful content and communities can have the effect of ‘normalising’ disordered eating and trigger the emulation of these destructive behaviours.

It was the experience of our advisors that using data to recommend content and advertising across multiple platforms, whether initially useful or not, led to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of related content they received. Even when cognitively and emotionally able to recognise this as harmful content, it was extremely difficult to stop receiving it once data has been used to suggest similar content and advertising across platforms. It was agreed that the use of their data had been detrimental to the development of maintenance of their eating disorders which had affected their lives so significantly and devastatingly.

"You can look at one post that might relate to disordered eating messaging and then get into a whole wormhole of looking through content for hours. You just keep scrolling down the recommended posts and get caught in all this messaging that reinforces itself and the next day there will be more content and it is a very difficult spiral to get out of sometimes. YouTube was a particularly problematic website for me. I used to look up work out videos and all that kind of stuff, and because I was watching those videos, what was recommended was all this other disordered content. It suggested other Youtubers to follow and I got very trapped in that mindset for a long time. You can know stuff intellectually, you can be taught all these things and yet it can still happen to you. Through unhelpful things like Youtube just posting and recommending harmful content from influencers and things. There is only so much that education and teaching people can do and a lot of it is out of our control at the end of the day." (Now aged 23yrs)

"When I first started using disordered eating terms and searching them into the search engine it would give me a suggestion of other pages to follow or other unhelpful blogs to follow, those sorts of connections can be really harmful because in those communities people may be posting whatever it is that’s disordered and I think that can be really detrimental in fuelling someone’s eating disorder. When I was using Instagram, It was certainly my experience that things would pop up and it gets harder and harder to get rid of those suggestions. It probably took a few months before those suggestions were gone, even after unfollowing those things, things were still popping up on my page." (Now aged 23yrs)

"In my lived experience, data mining is such a huge factor in the development and maintenance of my personal eating disorder. My usage of social media definitely reflected data collection and data mining from a very young age, under the age of 12, when things like targeted advertising was so detrimental to me. I was falling victim to targeting advertising that heavily affected me and I do believe it played a role in the development of my eating disorder. As from such a young age I was exposed to this perception of health where, to be healthy you have to be fit, you have to be thin, you have to prescribe to diet culture." (Now aged 21yrs)


In response to the proposed bill, our recommendations include enhancing a rights-based approach, ensuring that the ‘Best Interests’ principle is enforced as intended including specifying requirements on service providers and how these principles apply to specific data users, broadening the scope of online platforms and ensuring the code is adequately monitored and enforced.

We broadly welcome the Bill as one way to ensure the quality of the digital services available to Australian children and young people improves their digital experiences, and subsequently their mental health and wellbeing.


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  2. Subdivision 2A, 26KC (6) (f)\
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  14. Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 2020 Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy\
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  18. Beatriz Luna 2010 ‘Developmental Changes in Cognitive Control Through Adolescence’ Advanced Child Development Behaviour 37: 233–278\
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    Janna Clark, Sara Algoe, Melanie Green 2017 ‘Social Network Sites and Well-Being: The Role of Social Connection’ Current Directions in Psychological Science\
  25. Eric Han 2021 ‘Strengthening privacy and safety for youth on TikTok’\
  26. Instagram 2021 ‘Giving young people a safer, more private experience’\
  27. James Beser 2021 ‘New safety and digital wellbeing options for younger people on YouTube and YouTube Kids’\
  28. James Beser 2021 ibid\
  29. Instagram 2021 ibid\
  30. Children’s Data Code 2021\
  31. Children’s Data Code 2021, ‘Policy Asks’\
  32. Division 2A, 6W(1)\
  33. Division 2A, 6W(3)\
  34. Division 2A, 6W(4)\
  35. Division 2A, 6W(6)\
  36. ABS 2020 National State and Territory Population