The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Side of Technology

15 Sep 2014

Thanks to modern technology, it is clear that privacy isn’t what it used to be.

Yet as a seemingly technologically savvy society, we as a whole are still unable to grasp the dangers and potential privacy breaches that come with online activity, particularly with news of the recent celebrity photo-hacking scandal and the Facebook Messenger app controversy.

In the last week, newsrooms and social media platforms have been inundated with opinions and revelations on the iCloud hacking scandal where private photos of numerous high profile celebrities were stolen and posted online.

Additionally, Facebook has come under fire last month after allegations that their Messenger app was constantly accessing users’ camera and microphone to see and hear what they were doing. Although Facebook has denied these rumours, they recently rolled out a Privacy Check-up tool, which determines if one’s friends or the public can see posts, to help restore public opinion.

Whether famous or seemingly unknown, people from all walks of life put all sorts of things online or into cloud-based storage systems, from vital financial information to private photos.

Periodic cases of hacking fuel outrage, but there's been no evidence of retreat from digital engagement by the public or any imminent promise of guaranteed privacy.

Dr Mark Burdon from the TC Beirne School of Law at The University of Queensland, who specialises in privacy, believes that society enjoys the convenience that technology provides but as a whole lacks the knowledge needed to understand the complexities involved.

“We are technologically sophisticated in the sense that we can use our gadgets, but trying to work out what happens to the data is very difficult,” Dr Burdon said.

“So when we look at the Google Maps app, we activate the locating services [on the device] to see where we are. We want the convenience but we don’t understand the complexities or what it means in terms of the data collected [when the locating services are activated].

“It’s hard to comprehend the implications of this and meanings of those implications.”

With this in mind, Dr Burdon says there isn’t any specific online privacy legislations in Australia, however, at a Commonwealth level, there is a privacy act that is “technologically neutral” as it applies to all types of technology ranging from hard copy paper to online services. Yet the privacy act only covers websites which are password protected and doesn’t regulate those that don’t which is “where most people say it’s needed most”.

“You sort of have this degree of, not discomfort, but certainly a misfit between how a legal framework operates in terms of its privacy protection,” Dr Burdon said.

“The Australian Law Reform Commission came out and recommended that we have a new type of privacy law that would provide a statutory cause of action in relation to serious invasions of privacy […] that would apply to the online world.”

“Certainly the statutory cause of action would be a step forward [regarding] the limited protections available on the privacy act.”

Dr Burdon believes that the public should take note of the recent celebrity photo-hacking scandal because the same warnings and dangers can apply to those who put too much private information out on social media platforms.

“To a certain extent, there’s no point in being a part of a social network if you’re going to make the decision to not provide information about yourself […] but at the same time, there’s clearly limits on the type of information about ourselves that we want out there,” Dr Burdon said.

“But Apple themselves have been putting forward the message, both in terms of marketing and its practices, that iCloud is secure – that we can exchange information between devices in a secure way.”

“So in that sense, posting sensitive photos or information about ourselves to those kinds of [cloud] services is different, I think, to posting it openly on Facebook because there is this expectation that’s been generated by iCloud providers that the information will be stored securely.”

With this in mind, Dr Burdon warns that users must take more care in their choice of passwords for these services.

“You can bet that those celebrities who’ve had their photos hacked and distributed across the world will now have updated their passwords to significantly stronger passwords,” Dr Burdon said.

“We need to get the message across that we need to have automatically stronger passwords; that we understand why we need stronger passwords and that we have technologies that allow stronger passwords in a convenient way.”