Google, Facebook privacy scandals shift web habits

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Google, Facebook privacy scandals shift web habits

Survey suggests Australians more aware of risks.

The disregard Google and Facebook have shown for privacy is having an impact on web behaviour, with a new survey revealing Australians are now far more likely to tread carefully when sharing information online.

A national poll of 1,000 Australians, paid to be surveyed by pureprofile and commissioned by PR and lobby group Partner and Parkers, found that one in four Australians (27 percent) have changed their attitude to the sharing of personal information online in the wake of recent scandals involving Facebook and Google.

Google has handed over some 600 Gigabytes of data to European authorities after admitting to scanning unsecured wireless connections whilst filming the world's cities for its StreetView mapping service.

The search engine company is currently being investigated by the Australian Privacy Commissioner for potential breaches of the Privacy Act, and the Australian Federal Police for potential breaches of the Telecommunications Interception Act (TIA).

The Attorney-General's Department has pointed out that Section 7 of the TIA "prohibits the recording of communications without a knowledge of the persons to the communication" whilst Section 105 of the Act provides that a "breach of section 7 (ie an unlawful interception) is an offence."

"[It] is an indictable offence which could be punishable by two years imprisonment," the Attorney General's department told iTnews in a statement. "Civil penalties may also apply by order of the Federal Court or a State or Territory Court as the court considers appropriate."

Facebook, meanwhile, has been under pressure for failing to work with Australia's law enforcement authorities on cases involving profiles posted on its network.

"In a world filled with social media and web 2.0 tools, sharing the smallest details of your private life has become commonplace," said David Masters, ICT Practice Director at Parker & Partners. "What many commentators miss however - is the implied trust in the medium from users - trust that the individual can control this information and not have it shared unwillingly with third parties.

"What this response shows is that as a result of recent events, this trust is being compromised and people are being much more cautious with their private information. While all users of social media have a responsibility to think about the implications from the availability of their personal information, web operators cannot absolve themselves from a duty of care to their users."

Some 40 percent of respondents in the survey said they "were already aware of the risks of sharing information" so share little as a result.

Among the technology savvy (such as iTnews readers), this statistic balloons upward. Some 76 percent of the 297 readers responding to a web poll on Google's war-drive said that victims can only blame themselves for leaving their wireless networks unsecured. This survey remains open on the front page of iTnews.com.au.

Parker and Partners count Google and DFAT as former clients. The lobby group is also a listed donor to the ALP Government.

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