Smart phones, social media sites and the Internet are becoming inseparable aspects of our everyday lives. In Australia, at least 12 million people own a smart phone and nearly 14 million have a Facebook account. As more of us share personal information online, experts are warning that privacy may become a thing of the past.
By
Amy Chien-Yu Wang / SBS Radio

21 Sep 2015 - 8:41 AM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2015 - 2:27 PM

Smart phones, social media sites and the Internet are becoming inseparable aspects of our everyday lives.

In Australia, at least 12 million people own a smart phone and nearly 14 million have a Facebook account.

As more of us share personal information online, experts are warning that privacy may become a thing of the past. Amy Chien-Yu Wang has the story.

Like, post, share and check in are familiar features to the 14 million Facebook users in Australia.
 
Online privacy expert Leonie Smith runs The Cyber Safety Lady website.

 She warns sharing personal information can sometimes have detrimental effects.

"People are unaware that through using social media they can be at risk of identity theft, of being scammed through scammers, collecting enough personal information about their online profile to be able to send them very realistic messages and emails to get them to click link so they will download viruses onto their computer where can steal from them. That is one of the things that people really need to be aware of. What you share online even it's what institutions you frequent, what you things like, can be used to personalize scams."

Nigel Phair is a cyber-crime expert at the University of Canberra.

He says people often don't realise something malicious has happened until they get a bad credit rating from financial institutions.

"People need to be a lot smarter and a lot more secure in the online environment and just like we're quite well organized when we walk down the street and aware of our physical security and surrounds. We need to do same when we'e online. So that include being wary of websites you go to, the sort of personal information you're entering, being aware of social media settings really tightened down so only your closest friends can see your personal details."

He believes privacy can exist in the digital world as long as safeguards are put in place.

"It all depends on the type of device and what you're doing with it.  For example if you got a laptop, desktop or something, logically you should have some sort of security package from one of the main anti-virus etc. vendors to give you some level of protection. If you using a mobile device for example, you should be very vary when using public Wi-Fi, anyone can be eavesdropping on your Wi-Fi session and it's great to use those instances to do a bit of web surfing, maybe look up a local restaurant or something similiar. But you shouldn't be using any website which requires credentials, such as online banking."

However, Leonie Smith thinks there's no such thing as online privacy.

"I think it's very wise to be careful about what we share of the personal nature and to archive it all and take it down after it's been shared every now and then so that content about yourself doesn't live forever online. You need to understand exactly what options you have for privacy with all your online post and interactions and that can be quite difficult because a lot of the privacy settings for these social media accounts aren't apparently that obvious."

It's not only scamming or identity theft that we should be concerned about.
 
Leonie Smith says information or images shared on public profiles can also affect our employability.

"Almost a 100 per cent of people that are employing are having a look on social media, on Google to find out publically what your reputations could be. And they will make a decision about on hiring you on many different things. And some people may say that's being judgmental and it's a bad thing. But you have to be very, very conscious about what you are share online for ordinary people as well as for celebrities."

And it's not only the information we post about ourselves.

She says people should also seek permission before sharing or tagging images of others.

"Nowadays people are taking photos of things and other people, other people's children and uploading them in seconds on social media without asking if anybody whether they are comfortable with that. We can't assume that other people will be comfortable with that for a number of reasons. Some families are concerned about social media and about having photos of their kids online for privacy issues, for security issues. They may be in an acrimonious dispute with another family member and they don't want that family member knowing where they are and their child. There's all sorts of different reasons."

Melba Marginson is the Executive Director of the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Coalition.
 
She says, abused women are reporting more incidents of stalking and harassment by violent former partners through social media.
 
"It's now a common thing because everyone has access to mobile phones and Facebook. In fact, you know it's a complete abuse of women's rights when after apart from verbal and physical abuse they are still abusing them on social media."
 
She is referring to offensive posts on a victim's Facebook page, something that could be prevented by strengthening privacy settings.

When you are in a difficult situation, you actually don't think about covering up on all those aspects especially if you have been emotionally battered for quite some time, you sometimes you lose that bearing that will make you actually anticipate what may protect or not protect you."

Nigel Phair says people should always avoid disclosing their physical location.

"There's a number of scenarios that play out when people do status updates. Firstly, is geo locations. When you start looking at criminals however, they'll also look at geo-location sites and if you put these great photos that you're on holiday in Europe they pretty much know that you're not at home, and if they can work out where you live through other means then they know it's pretty easy pickings to do a burglary for example."

Leonie Smith from The Cyber Safety Lady, recommends frequent re-evaluation of privacy settings and a change of habit in how we share personal content online.

"It will take time for people who are new to social media to learn to change their behavior and to be wary of sharing absolutely every detail about their life and posting without thinking about how it appears to other people and be much more wary of the fact that when people want to find out about you how easy it can be."