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Transparency Report 2015
Trade Me Transparency Reports detail the number of enquiries we get from government agencies and policeBy Trust and Safety 4 August 2015
This report details areas where we provide information to Government agencies to comply with the law and keep our website trusted and safe.
It details the number of enquiries we received from Government agencies between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015.
We understand Trade Me was one of the first companies in New Zealand to release a transparency report when we did this way back in 2013.
The response back then was dead quiet, and very few questions came our way.
However, as more New Zealanders place an increasing amount of personal information online, there is a growing recognition of how important the protection and appropriate use of personal information is.
Our members entrust their data to us.
We believe they deserve to know what is happening to that data.
We think all major companies that operate in New Zealand should follow suit and shed greater light on the information they share with the Government, especially those companies who provide their customers' and members' data to agencies in significant numbers.
Our approach to information sharing
Typically Trade Me releases are made in the public interest to assist with the maintenance of the law by a Government agency.
This may be via a request from an agency under the Privacy Act, pursuant to a compulsion order (like a statutory notice or production order), or at our own instigation where illegality may have occurred on the site, or public safety is in question.
"We release person information only when we believe release is appropriate for legal compliance and law enforcement (including to Government agencies with statutory law enforcement responsibilities); to facilitate court proceedings; enforce or apply our terms and conditions; or protect the rights, property, or safety of Trade Me, our users, or others.
Government agencies with statutory roles enabling them to request data from us include but are not restricted to the Police, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment."
Summary of enquiries
The following graph outlines the number of enquiries received by Trade Me from Government agencies, the New Zealand Police and from members intending to take other members to the Disputes Tribunal to resolve a trade.
We've included requests from Police separately to provide further detail on the types of requests we receive.
At Trade Me we work hard to ensure that member information is released only when it is legal to do so, and when it is the right thing to do.
This means that sometimes we don't release information, even though we may have been legally entitled to.
When Government agencies request information from Trade Me, we always examine whether the information is required for the purpose provided by the requesting agency.
Where appropriate, we 'push back' on the agency to ensure that information releases are sharply focussed and as proportionate as possible.
The 2015 edition of the Transparency Report includes information on occassions when Trade Me has pushed back on enquiries by Government agencies.
A push back could include instances where we have declined to release information because requests were too broad in scope, or where we believed the grounds provided for the request did not meet the requirements of the Privacy Act.
As you can see, most requests do chin this bar and result in a release being made.
New Zealand Police enquiries
We have a strong working relationship with the New Zealand Police and we believe we are the only private sector organisation in New Zealand to have a formal Letter of Agreement with them.
This relationship helps us maintain the integrity of our site and helps Police keep the community safe.
A small percentage of trades on the site are reported as 'non-deliveries'. Trade Me investigators resolve the majority of these reports in-house, but where this proves impossible, we are keen to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their actions.
There was a 4.5% increase in the percentage of non-delivery cases subject to Police action in FY15.
The year ending 30 June 2015 has seen an 11% increase in the number of Police enquiries received by Trade Me. Comfortingly, the number of enquiries rejected is low at just 1.6%.
We put a lot of effort into ensuring Police understand how we can best help with their investigations, and we appreciate their efforts in making sure their requests for our members' data are as well-targeted as possible.
Police enquiry by type
This graph shows the subject matter of those enquiries.
Police enquiries by district
Trade Me is a large-scale marketplace operating across New Zealand. That means we get requests from all over the country for all sorts of alleged offending.
Here is a breakdown of where those enquiries originate from:
Government agency enquiries
For this reporting period, Trade Me liaised with 25 Government agencies across more than 30 different pieces of legislation.
Many of the enquiries we receive come about because an agency is keen to discuss a compliance issue with a Trade Me member in person.
Enquiries may be a request for member information, advice that a listing be withdrawn from the site, or a request for us to pass on educational information to the member.
Information releases are made in two ways. Trade Me may be legally compelled to release information, such as how the Ministry of Social Development applies the Social Security Act to get information about its clients.
Or after an agency's request, Trade Me may release the information at its discretion where it is considered reasonably necessary under principle 11(e) of the Privacy Act.
Overall, requests from Government agencies were up 6.5% from last year. Notable increases in enquiries came from the Commerce Commission (up over 200% year-on-year) on the back of amendments to the Fair Trading Act requiring sellers to disclose when they are 'in trade'.
We've also seen a steady flow of Commerce Commission enquiries in relation to Consumer Information Notices for motor vehicle and general Fair Trading Act compliance.
The next largest increase in enquiries was from the SPCA with a 54% increase in enquiries. This is mainly due to an increased focus on animal welfare issues at Trade Me during the year.
The Security Intelligence Service has also been more active in requesting information from Trade Me this year (up 46% year-on-year).
On the back of this increase in enquiries, Trade Me has been working with the SIS to ensure its processes for requesting information meet appropriate standards.
Enquiries from the Mnistry of Social Development also increased, up 25% on a year ago, but still well below 2013 levels.
The graph below shows the Government agencies (excluding Police) that requested information from Trade Me in the year ending 30 June 2015, with comparative data from the preceding two financial years.
Government enquiries - YOY comparison
Ministry breakdown by business unit
Due to their size, several Ministries cover multiple responsbilities and pieces of legislation. We have broken down three of these by subject matter below:
Disputes Tribunal claims
Trade Me works on the basis that people who have never met, send money to each other, for goods they have never seen.
While the large majority of the 300,000 weekly trades on Trade Me go through without a hitch, disputes can sometimes occur.
Where members are unable to resolve disputes themselves and Trade Me cannot help with a resolution, the Disputes Tribunal is often the best avenue for redress.
A member cannot obtain another member's contact details to apply for a Disputes Tribunal hearing without providing a statutory declaration to Trade Me, signed by a Court Registrar.
In the past year, we have released information to members for the purposes of taking a Disputes Tribunal claim 481 times, an increase of 0.5% on last year.
From time to time we are contacted by agencies who have obtained permission from Trade Me members to access the information Trade Me holds on them.
This almost exclusively occurs where an insurance company is investigating an insurance claim made by a Trade Me member and wants to verify some aspect of the claim.
On occasion we also see requests made through agents (such as lawyers) acting on behalf of members.
In these instances, we require the requesting agent to provide a Privacy Act Waiver signed by the member whose details have been requested authorising the request.
What is meant by 'enquiry'?
Enquiries cover a range of activity, such as:
- an information request where an agency has sought information about a membership (e.g. contact information or sales data)
- information that a listing may be in breach of the law (or our terms and conditions)
- highlighting an issue with a member which is then taken care of by Trade Me
- a request to pass on a message directly to members.
On what basis is information released?
Many Government agencies have legislative authority to request or compell the supply of information from private sector companies.
We release information only when we believe its release is appropriate to comply with the law for legal compliance or law enforcement purposes and as permitted by principle 11 of the Privacy Act 1993, or we are required to do so by law (e.g. by a production order or other notice).
Releases under the Privacy Act can be for various reasons, which include to "avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law by any public sector agency" or "for the conduct of proceedings before any court or tribunal".
Does Trade Me need members' permission to release information?
How safe is member data?
Very safe! We follow industry best practice methods to keep data safe. However, we are paranoid and constantly try to work out ways to make it safer.
How often will this report be released?
We aim to publish this data annually.