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How we use data and analytics

How we use data and analytics to gain insights into our clients, and design and deliver effective services.

Last updated 13 September 2022


Data, analytics and the insights they provide underpin our culture of service, our early intervention activities and our goal of prevention rather than correction. By using data and analytics we are making it easier for taxpayers to comply and harder not to.

We use data and analytics to:

  • understand our clients and improve their interactions with us
  • make better, faster and smarter decisions
  • deliver outcomes with agility
  • advise government and shape what we do for the community.

We receive, match and pre-fill large volumes of data from an increasing variety of third-party providers. This lets us share information we have about an individual’s tax affairs, with them or their agent, before they lodge a tax return.

To provide a faster, more complete service, we are working with data providers to:

  • extend our data sources
  • expand the range of information we make available via pre-fill
  • obtain data more quickly at the end of the income year.

We continue to build a strong data culture, with our commitment demonstrated in our Corporate plan 2022–23. The ethical use of data and insights is embedded in our corporate culture and values.

Providing a tailored client experience

We seek to understand your circumstances holistically and tailor our support to your needs.

Data and analytics provide us with a real-time view of your:

  • tax and super position
  • current circumstances
  • previous history with us.

As a result, the service you receive is tailored to your circumstances.

Firm but fair

Data and analytics allows us to identify and address issues quickly before they escalate. It also helps us to identify taxpayers who are not doing the right thing.

We want people to get it right. We also want people to get what they are entitled to – no more, no less.

Data-matching is a powerful administrative and law enforcement tool. We work with partner agencies to:

  • deliver services
  • share data, intelligence and expertise
  • participate in multi-agency task forces.

Delivering greater automation and digital services

Data and analytics help us build streamlined and easy-to-use digital services that reduce the time you spend on your tax and super affairs. Below are some examples.

We help you get it right from the start

Data provided to us by third parties such as banks, health funds and government agencies is used to pre-fill an individual's annual tax return.

In 2020, we pre-filled over 85 million pieces of data with the use of our data and analytics technology.

Helping you make better choices

We use real-time analytics to prompt taxpayers as they complete their tax return in myTax.

Nearest neighbour methods are used to compare amounts being entered into myTax, with those of other people in similar circumstances, along with other checks. If a claim is significantly different to what is expected, a message appears, prompting them to check their figures.

During tax time in 2020, nearly 340,000 taxpayers (around 7.5% of myTax users), received a pop-up message through myTax suggesting they review a specific label. These prompts caused taxpayers to make adjustments estimated to have a revenue impact of around $37 million.

Minimising the burden

In 2020 we provided automated assessments to more people entitled to a refund of franking credits. We automated 93,000 refunds to individual self-preparers over the age of 60 (a 36% increase on the prior year), eliminating their need to lodge a request for a refund, and saving them time. Refunds in excess of $42 million were issued.

Automated intelligence

Inbound calls to our call centre are transcribed, in bulk, every few hours using speech recognition. These transcripts are used for quality assurance and to detect patterns and trends in the topics raised by callers.

When we notice an increase in calls on a particular topic, we can ensure our staff have the latest information to provide to callers. We also use the information to improve our published advice and guidance.

We can also measure caller sentiment and use that feedback to make further improvements.

Managing call centre volumes

We are improving our ability to forecast call centre volumes on any given day, particularly during busy periods like tax time. We do this by using machine learning algorithms to complement traditional forecasting methods, looking at long-term trends.

Accelerated decision-making

We use a common form of artificial intelligence known as machine learning. Machine learning algorithms can consume large amounts of data and provide timely analysis and assessment. Machine learning means that a process which could take months, if done manually, can be done in days, saving time and resources.

Machines are trained to use historical data to make improvements and are faster than ever at consuming vast quantities of information. This has led to better allocation of workloads and resources, which leads to better services for taxpayers.

How we protect your data and privacy

Protecting your personal details and data is integral to the way we collect, manage, share and use data, and keeping pace with technology to protect it is our priority.

We have strict protocols governing:

  • how we collect and store data
  • what the data is used for
  • who the data is shared with.

We only collect personal information if it is reasonably necessary for, or directly related to, our functions and activities. These activities include:

  • administering tax and superannuation laws
  • administering the Australian Business Register
  • the Commissioner of Taxation’s functions and activities as an employer.

There are a number of ways we ensure the integrity and security of our data holdings.

ATO data ethics principles

We hold ourselves accountable to 6 ethical standards to ensure you have confidence in how we collect, manage, share and use your data.

  1. Act in the public interest, be mindful of the individual
    We administer and ensure the integrity of the tax, superannuation and business registry systems for the Australian community. We recognise our actions impact on the community and individuals, so we will be clear about our intent when we collect, manage, share and use data.
  2. Uphold privacy, security and legality
    We respect privacy. We ensure that the individual and community information we hold is kept safe, protected and shared securely as authorised by law.
  3. Explain clearly and be transparent
    We are open and will communicate our activities involving data in a way that is accessible and easy to understand.
  4. Engage in purposeful data activities
    We only collect, manage, share and use data where necessary to perform our functions and to deliver and enhance our services.
  5. Exercise human supervision
    We oversee and are accountable for our activities involving data and the decisions we make.
  6. Maintain data stewardship
    As data stewards we protect the data in our care and respect the stewardship requirements of other agencies. When we acquire or share data, we will agree on how the data will be used and kept securely.

Laws to protect your privacy

When we collect, manage, share and use data, we are required to comply with strict laws.

  • The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) regulates how personal information is handled by certain entities, such as companies and government agencies.

Schedule 1 of the Privacy Act lists the 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). The principles cover the collection, use, disclosure, storage and management of personal information.

We train our staff and apply the ATO privacy policy to keep your information safe, and all our systems and offices are protected and secure.

Privacy through data matching

We collect information about you in our role as administrators of the tax and super systems.

We may get this information through data matching programs when you lodge returns or from other parties, such as other government agencies.

We prepare and publish a data-matching protocol for each of our programs obtaining information on 5,000 individuals or more. This complies with the Privacy Commissioner's Guidelines on Data Matching in Australian Government AdministrationExternal Link.

Digital service provider (DSP) operational security framework (OSF)

To ensure the integrity and security of client data, we have established a security framework with controls that all DSPs must comply with when accessing our services in software such as Single Touch Payroll and Activity Statements.

These requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • multi-factor authentication for users that can access tax or superannuation-related information
  • data encryption to protect the confidentiality and integrity of client data
  • onshore data hosting by default, to limit the risk of non-authorised access to client data.

We are committed to protecting your data and further information can be found via our DSP Operational Security FrameworkExternal Link.

Cyber security

We have a robust security framework, to ensure the confidentiality and reliability of our digital services. We continue to adapt and improve our technology to address emerging cyber risks.

We regularly assess our systems against industry and government standards so they remain effective.

Your right to make a privacy complaint

We accept complaints or concerns about your privacy through a number of channels.

For more information on making a complaint, visit Complaints, compliments and suggestions.

ATO Longitudinal Information Files project

The ATO Longitudinal Information Files (ALife) project is a de-identified longitudinal dataset that we maintain and make available for approved research in Australian universities and federal government agencies.

The dataset is a sample of individual taxpayer information from:

  • tax returns
  • superannuation member contribution statements
  • self-managed super fund annual returns.

We started the ALife project to enable use of the valuable data we hold so that it can help inform improvements in tax and super policy, using Australian data.

Several Australian universities currently take part in the project. We require that they:

We ensure taxpayer information always remains confidential and private. Approved researchers can view the data in our secure environment. No data or results can enter or leave without our review and approval.

The project complies with our obligation under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and the Privacy Act 1988. It has also been subject to an Independent Privacy Impact Assessment to assure that privacy controls are appropriate and meet community expectations.

Since the project began in 2014 there have been several research papers published, including: