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10 privacy myths busted

Monday 9th May 2016

Remember stealing your sister's diary and telling all your friends about her crush on Jacob? Or what about that time you took screenshots of Stephanie's drunken Snapchats then posted it on Facebook? 

In the social media age, we've all witnessed (or perhaps even fallen victim to) a breach of privacy, but not all of us know our rights when it comes to protecting our sensitive information. 

It's Privacy Week so The Wireless has picked the brains of the experts to find out all you need to know about your business. 

Myth 1: People can stand outside my house and take photos of me. 

Practically speaking, no, somebody should not do this – it’s not pleasant. Legally speaking, the answer is that it depends.  If people are standing on the street, taking photos of a neighbourhood, you can have little expectation of privacy especially you are standing in your front garden in plain view of the street which is a public place. But if you are in your back garden, or even in the house then you would have an expectation of privacy. This would give you access to a number of legal remedies available.

The Privacy Act 1993 is New Zealand's main privacy law. You can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner to investigate if you think your neighbour is spying on you. Other laws can also apply including the Crimes Act, the Harassment Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

Myth 2: There is no problems with me Snapchatting people without them knowing.

Legally, we’re right back to “it depends.” If you are in a public place, you can have little expectation of privacy. But you could request that you didn’t want to be videoed or you could move away from the camera.

In practical terms, people in their unguarded moments in public places are easy targets for anyone. Today, the mobile phone, the internet and social media mean we can all be paparazzi. But that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to do the decent thing and not share images of others when they don’t want to be recorded or photographed.

Myth 3: If I call in sick, my employer can try and find out if I'm just pulling a sickie.

That’s one for the employment lawyers! But our advice would be to at least stay off social media if you’re faking a sick day. If your employer suspects that you’re faking it, you might be asked to explain your illness when you go back to work.

Myth 4: People can take my Facebook pictures without asking me.

They shouldn’t but if your privacy settings are public, anyone can see those photos and copy them if they want to. The best thing to do is to make sure your privacy settings suit you and don’t post photos that might be copied and shared. In other words, take control of your privacy by managing your privacy settings.

Myth 5: I sent my boyfriend a raunchy picture of me so he can send it to someone else if he wants. 

He can but the real question is - should he? For example, does he have your permission to do so? If he doesn’t, and he shares a picture like this, he will probably be found to have interfered with your privacy under the Privacy Act.

This is actually a relatively recent development; until the Harmful Digital Communications Act passed last year, the Privacy Act only applied to agencies such as government agencies, businesses, clubs and societies. Now it applies to individuals when the subject matter would be “highly offensive to an ordinary reasonable person.” A raunchy photo would probably trigger this “highly offensive” threshold.  

Myth 6: What happens in incognito mode?

We had to google that one! Here’s what came up: “Privacy mode or "private browsing" or "incognito mode" is a privacy feature in some web browsers to disable browsing history and the web cache. This allows a person to browse the web without storing local data that could be retrieved at a later date.” The more you know.

Myth 7: Siri is always listening...

Siri is listening to your words but the question is – is Siri recording your words and storing them back at Apple HQ? We think this is unlikely, especially since Apple has built its brand on protecting the privacy of its users. It would also be extraordinarily expensive to record everything you say, send it back to Apple HQ, then store it alongside the utterings of millions of other iPhone users. So while we can’t say for sure, we expect that this is an unlikely scenario.

Myth 8: The GCSB knows that I’m looking at porn online. 

We don’t think they would be interested. The GCSB has more important things to worry about.

Myth 9: Mate, privacy doesn't matter! 

Well, that’s up to you. It’s not for us to say why privacy should matter, because every person has a different set of values. A piece of information that is intensely private to one person may be completely benign to another person. What we do is give people the ability to make that decision for themselves – to choose what to share, with whom and when. The reasons why are up to the individuals.

Myth 10: There is nothing I can do if I have a privacy problem.

Yes, there is. You can go the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s website and make a complaint using our online complaint form. You can find that here. Or you can write to us in a letter or an email.

This information was provided by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. If you are looking for help or more information about privacy matters, check out their website



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