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What are social networking sites?

Social networking sites are websites that allow people to socialise and communicate online. This often involves the sharing of personal information, through comments, the sending of messages and the posting of photos and videos.

While there are some privacy risks associated with social networking, these can be lessened by taking steps to protect your personal information online.

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What happens to the information I post on social networking sites?

The information you share online may be permanently recorded. Even when you deactivate your account, the information you shared may remain in archived or old versions of websites, or in comments you’ve made on other people’s pages.

You may not have control over who sees or accesses the personal information you share on social media. The results of over-sharing, or having your posts shared without your consent, can be as varied as personal and professional reputational damage and identity theft. You should always think carefully about the information and content you post about yourself.

Read the privacy policies of the social networking sites you use and choose the privacy settings that best suit your needs.

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Who is allowed to use the personal information I post on social networking sites?

If the information on your social networking page is publicly available, then anyone can look at it. This means potential employers could look at your page and perhaps base their decisions on what they see there.

Even if you use privacy settings to limit who can see your information, you may not be able to control how people you have permitted to see your information use it. For example, your friends may republish your information to a wider audience than you did.    

If an entity covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) collects and uses the information you share on social media, then it must comply with its obligations outlined in the Privacy Act. For example, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) are a set of rules in the Privacy Act that set out how an entity must handle your personal information and what it is allowed to use it for. To find out more about APPs, and what they mean for you, read our APP quick reference tool.

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Do I have rights under the Privacy Act when I use social networking sites?

Whether you have rights under the Privacy Act will depend upon whether the social networking site is covered by the Privacy Act.

To be covered by the Privacy Act, an organisation must have an Australian link. A number of factors will determine whether an organisation has an Australian link, including whether it has a presence in Australia and whether it carries on business in Australia. If the social networking site is based in another country and does not have a presence in Australia, then you may not have privacy rights under Australian law when you use the site.

The Privacy Act also doesn’t cover organisations with an annual turnover of $3 million or less, unless an exception applies.

The Privacy Act doesn’t cover individuals acting in a personal capacity. This means you generally can’t enforce a privacy right against an individual, though you may have actions against them under other laws. For example, while you may not be able to make a complaint under the Privacy Act about an individual who posts your personal information on a social networking site, you may have an action against them under copyright or defamation law.

If you need more information about this point, you can contact our Enquiries Line.

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What can I do if someone posts information about me on a social networking site that I want removed?

While the Privacy Act doesn’t cover individuals acting in a personal capacity, if someone has posted information about you that you want removed, first ask the person to take it down. If they refuse, there are other steps you can take.

You can contact the social networking site and ask them to remove the information. Most social networking sites have procedures in place for you to request the removal of your personal information for privacy reasons.

If you are a school student and the other person is a student at your school, you can report it to a teacher you trust or your school counsellor. Schools generally take bullying very seriously and may be able to speak to the person on your behalf. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner leads online safety education for the Australian Government and administers a complaint scheme for Australian children when they experience cyberbullying.  

Also remember, you should treat others the way you wish to be treated. If someone asks you to take down a photograph of them that you have posted on your social media page, take it down. It might not seem like a bad photo to you, but people have different comfort zones when it comes to their privacy.

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How can I make a privacy complaint about a social networking site?  

You have several options for complaining about how your personal information has been used on a social networking site.

Contact the social networking site

You can raise your complaint with the social networking site. This is often a good first step. Details about how to make a complaint are usually found in the ‘help’ or ‘privacy’ sections of social networking websites. It is not necessary to join a social networking site in order to make a complaint about one.

Contact the organisation that used your information

If your complaint relates to how another organisation has misused information about you that they collected from your social media page, you should complain to that organisation.

Call our Enquiries Line — we may be able to help

If an organisation doesn’t adequately resolve your complaint and it’s covered by the Privacy Act, you can make a complaint to our office.

Contact our Enquiries Line for more information.

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What can I do if I'm being threatened, harassed or defamed online?

If you have been threatened, harassed or defamed online, there are a number of organisations that may be able to help you.

If the harassment you’ve experienced is serious, you should consider contacting your local police for more information.

If you think you have been defamed online, consider seeking legal advice.

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Where can I get more information about keeping safe on social media?

In addition to the OAIC, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, ThinkUKnow, and StaySmartOnline have information on how you can protect your personal information when socialising online.  

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