Privacy is a concept which is difficult to define exactly but we intuitively know when it is being threatened or breached. In a digital context, it might be about:
- knowing what is happening to your information, such as where it is stored and how it is being used
- exerting control over your information — to remove it from the internet altogether, or controlling who can view it
- having the ability to block threats to your privacy by controlling what information you provide in the first place
- controlling who can contact you and for what purpose.
“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”
Helped along by a series of widely reported events, internet users are becoming more aware of the threats that online life can pose to their privacy:
- The Facebook data breach in April 2021, where the details of more than 500 million Facebook users were found online.
- The Optus data hack in 2022.
- Medibank hack also in 2022.
The majority of Australians are concerned about online privacy according to the Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy Survey 2020. Even though we are concerned, few of us take action to protect our privacy. How about you?
Governments, organisations and businesses collect data from us. Data can be used ethically for research and service improvement, such as for travel and land-use, or to solve social and environmental problems. It can also be used unethically for profit.
Personal information requests
Businesses or organisations often request our personal details when we sign up or download their software or tools.
Customer loyalty schemes
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) warns us to be careful when signing up to customer loyalty schemes. These programs often request personal information. It is possible that they can combine this with information gathered from your social media or web browsing to build a detailed profile about you.
Apps and software
Often when you install an app, it will ask you for access to information on your device, for example, your contacts list, address book, your camera or your photos. The app might also ask to turn on location services.
Try to download from reputable sources and check reviews to verify the safety of an app you wish to use. Try to limit the access and information you provide.
The Protect your privacy section has more information on steps you can take for personal information requests and installing apps.
Jurisdictions respond to threats and concerns in varying ways.
The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) regulates how Australian government bodies, as well as some non-government organisations, must treat your personal information. The Privacy Act categorises certain personal information as “sensitive information” and stipulates that organisations provide a greater level of protection. Examples of ‘sensitive information’ include:
- religious or political affiliation
- sexual preference
The Act also outlines what should happen if an organisation’s data is breached and when the organisation has to notify you.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
In 2018, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), perhaps the most comprehensive privacy legislation to date.
Privacy at UQ
The University of Queensland’s Privacy Management Policy specifies that the University must collect, store, provide access to, use and disclose personal information in accordance with the Information Privacy Act 2009.