Social Networking and Privacy


In the global world today, the internet is an important means of communication and a source of information to people in every part of the world. The post global financial crisis of 2009 saw the bust in the growth of the use of social media by organizations as they saw its potentiality to create massive profits through their cost-effective ways of engaging and dealing with their customers.

Today most people engage in social networking and several websites established on the internet has enabled them to create profiles, send message to each other, share information, post photographs and videos of themselves, friends and families so that others can see them. Research has shown that in today’s world, all people of all ages use the social networks to share information through web-based tools to communicate with each.

Social networking

Social networking refers to the act of engagement by groups of people who have common interests and who interact and associate with each other on social networking sites. Networking is mainly concerned with the relationships initiated between people in the internet. It is not just limited to young people since studies have revealed that in 2007, MySpace in Australia had over 3 Million members and of these 50 were over the age of 25. Another survey done in 2000 among adults working in various areas in the United States showed that about half of these engaged themselves in social networking.

Facebook is among the social network sites and it has over 700 million users in the world and its costs values about 50 billion dollars. Social interaction includes users creating their profiles by uploading their personal information into social networking sites and establishing contacts with fellow users. Some of the social networking sites include LinkedIn and Facebook which allows people to create and update their profiles, add their friends and upload their photographs and videos of themselves as well as chat or interact with their friends. Twitter on the other hand is a site that allows people to create short texts and ‘tweets’ while MySpace allows people to post a range of content on the site.

Despite these advantages, the use of social media sites also has disadvantages. Concerns have arisen over the careless use of these sites by people without regard to the possible risks that they may expose themselves to. Employers in various parts of the world now routinely review personal information of their on-job and prospective employees on the social network sites before making decisions on who to hire or fire. As a result, inappropriate postings on the internet have led to loss of jobs by many young people. Social network sites also expose users to cyber crime which includes online predators and identity thieves.

Privacy and social networking

Privacy in social network sites is usually not expected or is purely not defined. As a result people do not accord it the importance that it deserves. Privacy entails three important aspects. Firstly there is activity stream where social sites record all the things and events that users engage themselves in online. These events may include changes that the user makes to their profile pages or addition of an item which they want to share with friends. Second is unwelcome linkages where social network sites show information that internet users had no intention of revealing and finally deanonymization through merging of social graphs where the sites extract too much personally identifiable information for instance the date of birth and address which may expose users to cyber crime.

Social networking sites record all interactions and keep them to use it for potential social data mining. Social media sites have no explicit policies and data protection mechanisms used to make sure that there is social privacy in the online sites. Research on privacy and social networking sites has shown that though internet users express very strong concerns about privacy of their personal information yet they are less vigilant in safeguarding it as they upload lots of personal information unto these sites. The concerns have risen over the security of users and as a result over whether people are sharing too much private information both deliberately and inadvertently and the security risk posed by this.

Facebook has privacy settings that allow the users to take control of who can visit their site and see the information placed on their Facebook site and other social networking sites. The misuse of information placed on Facebook and other social networking sites are issues dealing with personal safety and the privacy of employment details. Facebook privacy should mainly focus on both uploading the users information and that of employment and this includes the details about their names, email addresses, personal contacts and physical addresses, gender and date of birth.

Facebook allows criminals to use and to get access to the information about certain users and thus creating a bonding between them by interacting and building trust and even agreeing to meet in person. An example of this is a case where an Australian teenager got killed by a man who acted as her friend on Facebook. It has become extremely hard for Australian Federal police to control or even patrol the social network sites and they have put in place some of the measures that help in investigating some of the activities taking place on Facebook.

Another example of privacy about the uploading of personal information is that a person might take advantage and use another person’s information by obtaining their personal details and even applying for credits on their names. This information is easily accessed through cases whereby one has lost or dropped the bills or wallet and thus giving a chance for the criminal to get access to the information and use it on the site.

Internet and e-commerce has greatly changed over the past few years in many ways. This includes changes in the way of communication as well as the forms of interacting and transacting businesses with other people and partners over the social networks. The use of high-speed broadband and other features has brought about rapid changes in the global environment through the online social networking sites. Marketing of goods and services in both businesses and the government has become more effective through its engagement for both the clients and the sellers.

With modern technology this has forced governments to enact laws used to govern the use of social networking sites. These laws and policies help in controlling and safeguarding the information the social networking sites. The internet and E-commerce law, Business and Policy analyses some of the policies and legal issues that the various government as well as the businesses have adopted in its bids to solve issues raised about social networking sites. Some of the laws and practices adopted include regulating what people post on the internet, copyright issues, cyber crime, and privacy among others. The government strategies have also come up with ways through which these laws and regulations can become applicable in resolving disputes in the online system.

Most of the organizations, international businesses and people use the social networking sites and thus they face information security legal issues. Some of these issues terrorism, violence that results through the social network sites and other consequences which may harm the internet users. Another example of the information security includes social engineering attacks against the users of the organization’s persona which can greatly harm an organization. Social engineering can trick people who are unaware about the cases of fraud in the internet. Some of the people could be tricked to download some of the information that could be infected with malware because one of the friends has recommended it or even visit some of the sites that look like one of the companies profile and thus feeding personal information to the criminals. If the organization’s computers become infected with malware software, they are likely to destroy some of the personal information or the credit card numbers as well as the trade secrets of the company and so the company might face lawsuits and regulatory actions based on the violations. The coming up of networking sites such as LinkedIn and Linkme has given an opportunity to people to build connections. However the use of such sites can result to loss and disclosure of an organization’s confidential information and especially crucial client’s information. Social networking can also lead to the intangible loss of reputation and especially when things go wrong online.

Facebook is well-known for crimes such as bullying and a great example is that which occurred in February 20, whereby 20 students got suspended in Brisbane high school for allegedly bullying a member of the staff through a Facebook group formed by them. Another incident was in the US when a 19-year old got imprisoned for 15-years after using false information to threaten the classmates with their photographs being edited and used on Facebook.

On issues of employment, Facebook and other social networking sites have left so many employees jobless because of the intimidating information that they post on the Facebook. Most of them lose their jobs because they fail to understand the impact of employee-employer relationship. In this situation, an employee might decide to harass some of the work-mates and by doing that the employer decides to discipline them by dismissing them from work because of such cases.

The Australian privacy laws give protection to the users of the social networking site according to the Privacy Act 1998(cth) which give rules and regulations to Australian government agencies and other organizations present in Australia in handling personal information. The Australian employers must follow the Privacy Act for the purposes of use and disclosure of their personal information and even in the matters of the public.

Social networking websites has enabled several people to create their own profiles through which they can communicate with others through text messages and post their photographs and videos of themselves. They disclose information about themselves as they update their status in the social networking sites.

Certain features of certain websites play an important role in disclosing personal information online. An example was when Facebook in 2006 introduced an automatic broadcasting feature that announces changes made to a member’s profile to all the friends of the person involved. In 2007, it introduced a similar feature known as ‘Beacon’ which automatically gave information on all the purchases that customers made to their friends.

Personal information on the internet is not easy to remove permanently but it is easy to change the information. What is more important is the ability for people to exercise caution and safeguard their own privacy. According to the chief privacy officer in Australia Chris Kelly he changed the idea that stated that privacy is the right” to be left alone” to the idea that “I want control over my information.”

The use of the social networking sites amongst the young people has created a lot of risk to them. There have been reports including bullying, misleading or suicide that are a result of continued usage of these sites. An example is the Australian Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice whose photographs of a private party she held got uploaded on to the internet and this brought great risks about her privacy and security. The pictures got disclosed yet the party was a private one. Concerns has also been raised over the issues where most of the children on their teens are using the social network site to post their naked photos together with their friends through their mobile phones on sites like Facebook.Through a study carried in Australia in July, 2009 termed “click and connect” it was clear that most of the young people preferred to become open and express themselves without any care. Their only focus was on standing out to others but not checking their privacy.

Effects of social networking on privacy

The Australian government has put in place a consultative working group on cyberspace safety and this takes care of the issues that arise from some of the legal risks involved in the use of social networking sites like bullying, exposure to offensive languages, sexual violence, hate speech and many other risks. Privacy infringement and the disclosure of confidential and private information have been a major threat among the teens and young adults.

The Australian editor in chief, Chris Mitchell, sued Julie Posetti for defamation because he claimed that she had tweeted comments made on a conference by a former journalist about climate change saying that the journalist got instructed to write on climate change by Mitchell.

In Australia, there are laws that deal with the problems associated with social networking sites infringing on people’s privacy. The first conviction was when an internet “troll” was charged and convicted for defacing a social site. Internet “trolls” refers to people who engage in offensive and provocative behavior with the aim of attracting attention to them. This can include posting offensive comments to a post or an article. The increased popularity of the internet has seen cases of “trolling” sky rocket.

In Australia, there are laws that govern trolling the Criminal Code Act. Part 10.6 of this act regulates trolling in the internet and encompasses child abuse and child pornography. In part 10.6, Division 474.17(1) of the act a law that governs against using the internet to cause menace, harass or offend a reasonable person.

An example of the usage of the criminal code is when a news journalist got arrested for viewing private photos of a user in Australia. The journalist got convicted under section 433(1) of the criminal code act which states that “A person commits a crime if he/she receives tainted property and has reason to believe in its taint.” This offence carries the most charge of 14 years imprisonment.

The news of a case where an academic in Australia got barred from visiting a Facebook page of another person after they reached an out of court settlement illustrates how social media is also impacting on Australian laws.

In another instance in Victoria, a person got charged for publishing a Facebook party of another person without the person’s permission. This can fall under the class of stalking and in Australia; a person can face charges for this under part 10.6 of the criminal act code. The Australian laws especially the criminal code act has put up laws and measures to deal with such incidences.

In Victoria, stalking laws put in place for instance the section 2/A (2) (ba) of the crimes act states that if a person is committing an offence if they access other people’s profiles without permission. In Queensland, the stalking laws are the same with those in Victoria and contained in criminal code S 39B.However in Queensland, S 39D(C) provides defense for stalking if done for purposes that are genuine and that are of public interest.

The Australian federal police together with other police departments have put in place some of the measures to deal with the criminals who commit crimes using the social networking site. The Australian government mainly relies on the people themselves who are expected to give information on some of the things that take place in their sites and make the police aware of the situation that they are in. The crime reports are usually reported from people and the police departments make sure that there is law enforcement in the area.


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