Digital privacy - Does it still exist?

We live in a culture of oversharing… like that pretty design on your cappuccino, exotic holiday moments or a workout at the gym – they all get posted on Instagram or Facebook, right?

In this digital age, every single moment of our lives is being documented by our friends and family in a way that isn't too dissimilar to the tabloids. There is a big argument to be made that there is no such thing as privacy anymore. However, unlike celebrities, who have learned to manage their privacy, we seem to flock to the paparazzi, rather than away from them.

While there may be things that were considered private 20 years ago that aren’t anymore, the general concept of privacy and our expectation for it still exists. In South Africa, privacy is a fundamental constitutional right to which every single person is entitled.  In terms of South African law, the more you protect your privacy, the more privacy you have.

Reasonable expectation of privacy

Start by asking the question: is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in a particular set of circumstances? For example, if a photograph is taken of you while you're fully clothed and out in public, you are unlikely to have a problem with it; but if you’re naked in the shower and someone sneaks a photo you will definitely be up in arms.

The most basic thing you can do to protect your online privacy is to have a private account (there are additional features depending on the platform). If you do not take basic steps like this, you cannot be upset tomorrow if a tabloid magazine features a ten page spread of your family holiday from Instagram, as you haven't taken steps to protect your privacy, and therefore cannot have any expectation of privacy.

Avoid the pitfalls of 'sharenting'

Another privacy concern that is important to consider for anyone with children is the concept of 'sharenting' – sharing and oversharing of photographs of our children online. Parents are responsible for protecting their children's privacy and the online space is no different. A good test is to ask yourself if your child would be happy with that content being online when he/she is old enough to appreciate it.

If the answer is no - don't post it. As soon as your child is old enough to have a conversation around consent, our advice is to ask before posting. In addition, when it comes to your children, don't post anything awkward or embarrassing, don't include identifying information (such as a school uniform) and definitely no cute pictures of your naked toddler running on the beach. We know it's adorable, but there are some creepy people out there.

What can you do to protect your information online?

Once information is out there, it's out there for good. Remember that the Internet is permanent and so we need to try and protect what we put on social media, as much as possible. Here are some practical ways of doing this:

  • Be selective of who you connect with and allow to follow you on social media .
  • Make your accounts private and make the privacy settings as strict as possible.
  • If you have multiple social media accounts on different platforms, be aware that posts may link to each other (e.g. something you post on Instagram can be shared to Facebook).
  • Turn off the location function on your camera and on all apps, except for those that require it to be active e.g. Find My iPhone, Uber, Google Maps, etc.
  • Delete or disable old accounts that you don't use anymore. You never know when your younger self can pop up to haunt you again.
  • Rather under-share than overshare.
  • Never post in the heat of the moment: anger or sadness can heavily cloud your judgement.
  • Always fact-check any news you see before sharing, especially if it seems a bit far-fetched or incites an intense emotional response.
  • Remove your third-party plugins on Facebook.
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