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Information and communications technology

What kind of technologies may impact on my privacy?

Many technologies involve the handling of personal information and therefore have the potential to impact on your privacy. These include:

  • cloud computing
  • biometrics technology
  • bluetooth technology
  • tracking devices
  • transport technologies, such as electronic tolls
  • GPS navigation systems and automatic number plate recognition systems
  • smart cards, such as credit cards with a chip
  • radio-frequency identification tags on goods you purchase.

You should consider the privacy implications of technologies before you begin using them. Not all technologies are privacy intrusive. In fact, many technologies are capable of being privacy enhancing. It is often the way technology is used that determines whether it is privacy enhancing or privacy invasive. Try to use technologies in a way that minimises the amount of personal information you share and protects your privacy.

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How can I protect my privacy when using my mobile and other smart phone technologies?

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can store a large amount of personal information. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your mobile, including:

  • putting a pin lock on your phone
  • leaving your bluetooth turned off or in undiscoverable mode when you are not using it
  • using only encrypted Wi-Fi networks that require a password
  • only switching your location services on when necessary and limiting the apps with which you share your location
  • adjusting your browser settings to control the collection of information through cookies
  • erasing your internet history
  • only download apps from official stores or trusted sources.

These features can be activated or adjusted in the privacy settings of your phone. You should also make sure no personal information is left on your phone when you dispose of it. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to delete information.

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How can I control the information I share with apps?

Always read the privacy policies of apps before downloading them so that you know their policies for collecting and using personal information. You should limit the information you permit apps to access. You should also only download apps from reputable sources, especially if you’re sharing location or financial information.

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How do I protect myself online?

People use the internet for a wide range of purposes, including for communicating, socialising and doing their banking. Maintaining your online privacy depends on your ability to control the amount of personal information that you provide and who has access to that information. It is important to limit the amount of information you share, as it can be very hard, and often impossible, to completely remove information that has been published on the internet.

Key tips to interacting safely online include:

  • installing patches and security software on your computer, including anti-spyware, anti-virus scanners and firewall software
  • reading the privacy policies and privacy notices of websites
  • only downloading apps from reputable sources, especially if you’re sharing location or financial information
  • avoid entering personal information or a password on an unsecured website. Several features indicate a site may be secure. For example, it may use ‘https’ at the beginning of its domain name or it may display a security icon, usually a small locked padlock, on its browser.

Passwords are another important security feature. Use different passwords for different accounts, make sure you choose strong passwords and change them regularly. A random combination of numbers, letters and punctuation over eight characters long is recommended. Consider using a password manager to help you with this.

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Does the Privacy Act protect information stored in the cloud?

If an organisation is covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act), it must ensure that all the personal information it handles complies with the APPs, including information in the cloud. Different considerations may apply depending on whether the information is stored in an Australian cloud or overseas.

Given the diversity of cloud services, and the many ways in which they are used, it is not possible for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to give prescriptive rules about when use of a cloud service may or may not breach your privacy. Before signing up for cloud services, or providing your personal information, you should read the privacy policy of the cloud provider.

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Where can I find more information?

The Department of Communications has a fact sheet [PDF] that discusses some of the privacy and security issues relating to cloud computing and lists some key questions you should ask your cloud service provider.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has information on internet security and safety, including tips for protecting yourself online, on its website.

The OAIC also has a Ten tips to protect your privacy fact sheet, which provides tips to help you protect your personal information and your privacy.

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