Identity, privacy, security and trust …

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Internet privacy – an oxymoron?

I often have a chuckle to myself when people talk about privacy and the internet – there is no privacy. Once something is posted, it is there. Essentially forever. However, it has been a long time since we (the general public) have had real privacy: Medicare cards, Tax file numbers, bank accounts for wages deposits these are all systems designed to track information about us and therefore open to exploitation. So whether the information about us is on the web, or on paper, it is possible for personal information to be discovered (See NT example, TAS example, VIC example as just a few more recent examples)

For me, privacy on the internet is more about my financial details, e.g. credit cards, and certain identity details such as birth date, etc. I guess this is what Raynes-Goldie (2010) referred to as informational privacy. It is difficult to never give any of this information out, but I carefully select who I give it to, to minimise my risk: As Raynes-Goldie (2010) points out, in some cases, the benefits of being on the web outweigh the risks.

To mitigate some of the more unflattering potential of a web presence, Pearson (2009) discusses the potential to control your online presence; to make you your brand. This is certainly one way to exercise what little control we have over the web, but I often consider that I am not the kind of person who needs to be discussing privacy and security on the web … it is younger people; the so-called digital natives,  whose living memory has been spent in the on-line environment. I fear that it is these people who are most at risk.

Not necessarily at risk right now but in time, when they begin looking for work, when they realise just how much of them is ‘out there’. And maybe they won’t fully appreciate the need to keep certain financial details private and this exposes them even further. I take what Raynes-Goldie says about better framing the privacy question but I found the statement in the conclusion very pertinent: “The full implications for privacy in the age of Facebook and social media are still unknown…”


Pearson, J. (2009). Life as a dog: Personal identity and the internet. Meanjin, 68(2), 67-77. Retrieved from;dn=200906244;res=APAFT

Raynes-Goldie, K. (2010). Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook, First Monday, 15(1), 4 January. Retrieved from 


Social Media Implications

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Whilst there are many, many implications for social media, I find myself continually drawn to the implications of privacy and the digital divide.


Part of the issues around privacy in Australia is that there is no constitutional right to privacy – privacy is protected by law, but laws are changed by parliaments, not the people! So any discussion around privacy protection in Australia must remember that there are many laws relating to privacy protection, but no legal ‘rights’ to privacy. This situation makes decisions about what can and cannot be published on the web even more difficult because one needs to consider both State and Federal laws in relation to privacy as well as our obligations as signatories to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, (see article 12 of the declaration).

In Hodson’s 2006 paper “Archives on the Web: Unlocking Collections While Safeguarding Privacy“, Alan Westin is quoted as defining privacy as: “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” Certainly we must ensure we comply with applicable laws, but Westin’s definition is a good starting place as it is clear and succinct.

In anything we as information professionals do, we need to remember that everyone’s privacy should be respected. It is not an easy task, but it is imperative.

Digital Divide

The digital divide is of interest to me as I grew up in a disadvantaged area in Sydney, NSW and I saw for myself what effect a lack of access to information can have on people. I was really pleased to read Jenkins’ white paper as it was made clear that providing some access is only the start of bridging the digital divide. It is so true that unless we also teach children how to be critical of what they see and read, then we are only doing half the job!

Children who have frequent access to the web can begin their critical learning much sooner than children who have infrequent access, so to truly bridge the divide we need to ensure full access to the internet and the web.

For me, full participation begins when one can access and assess the validity of information they are receiving.


Hodson, S.S. (2006). Archives on the Web: Unlocking collections while safeguarding privacy, First Monday, 11(8), August. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from

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