[LINK] SMH: 'Social media exploitation is gravest risk'
Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Mon Mar 5 09:44:13 EST 2012
[Steve Wilson, 'of this parish', is in the SMH this morning. A long
letter got up, and was highlighted by the Letters Editor; so the
Letters Editor both 'gets it', and judges that SMH's readership is
ready for the message.
[So far, good news. But is the law as useful as Steve suggests?]
Social media exploitation is gravest risk
Letters to the Editor
The Sydney Morning Herald
5 March 2012
It was great to see a measured article about online privacy ("Nothing
sacred in online grab for data", March 3-4). Instead of
sensationalising the odd indiscretion by hapless Facebook users, the
article correctly identifies the underhanded commercial exploitation
of personal information as the gravest risk.
There is a grossly unfair bargain at the heart of most social media.
They give us cool apps like photo tagging and speech recognition, and
in return we unwittingly provide them with gold like our address
It's bad enough that contacts are taken from our phones without
consent but the real treasure is even more subtle. With face
recognition algorithms (calibrated by users every time they tag a
friend) Facebook can work out what we're doing, when, where and with
whom. It's privatised surveillance on an unprecedented scale. And
courtesy of their free personal assistant "Siri", Apple acquires the
contents of dictated text messages and emails - personal information
that not even telephone companies are privy to without a court order.
There is good news though. Australian privacy laws are well written
to curb the excesses of the social media giants. Every time Facebook
receives a tag suggestion, or Apple stores an SMS, or Google keeps a
search query, they are committing an act of ''collection'' according
to the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988. Moreover, every time these
innovative companies create brand new information about us, they are
also making a collection. Our Privacy Act doesn't much care where
personal information comes from; once a company has it, they need to
show they have a real need to keep it, and they are obligated to be
Some types of personal information such as health data cannot be
collected at all without prior consent. So if a department store here
was to deduce someone was pregnant and use that information to
"capture them for years" as customers, they could well be in breach
of the law.
It's not too late for people to regain their privacy. In
jurisdictions like ours, the big "infomopolies" have long sailed
close to the wind.
We only need the determination now to uncover the depth of their
exploitation and to enforce our existing legal rights.
Stephen Wilson Five Dock
Roger Clarke http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd 78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au http://www.xamax.com.au/
Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law University of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science Australian National University
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