Social site use rising as privacy fears grow

03:28, May 08 2010

New Zealanders' use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter is soaring amid growing public concern about privacy on the web, a new poll shows.

The UMR survey made public yesterday by Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff shows high levels of concern about privacy and risks to personal information on the internet, especially that posted by children, as their social life is increasingly being lived online.

Overall, 43 per cent of those surveyed used a social networking site, up from 32 per cent last June and just 14 per cent in August 2007.

About four-fifths of those aged 18 to 30 use social networking sites.

"These results show that social life is increasingly being lived online," Ms Shroff said.

Use is likely to be even higher among those under 18, though there is no accurate data on that.


Of the 750 people surveyed 83 per cent were concerned about the security of their personal information and 88 per cent were concerned about information shared by children on the internet.

Ms Shroff said it was surprising many thought their social networking was more private than it may be.

More than half believed they were mainly private spaces where people shared information with their friends, while 42 per cent believed they were mainly public and information could be seen by many.

"If I had only one tip to give to people, it is to realise that when you're putting information on social networking sites, you're publishing that information to the whole world, and that it's there for ever," she said.

"Don't ever assume you're only having a chat with your friends."

Users should always be careful with information such as cellphone numbers, birth date, mother's maiden name or other ways they could be identified.

In the survey 86 per cent claimed they knew how to protect their privacy settings, and 66 per cent said they had changed privacy settings.

Ms Shroff recommended internet safety resources available through Hectors World, Netsafe and the Privacy Commissioner's website.

The UMR survey found that in the public sector, the health service, including doctors, hospitals and pharmacists, had the highest level of trust at 94 per cent (92 per cent in 2008), followed by police at 88 per cent (up 4 per cent) and Inland Revenue at 84 per cent (up 8 per cent).

But those surveyed were less confident about government agencies' use of their information.


What Can Go Wrong?

- A Taranaki principal has been shocked to find how many of his year 7 and 8 children (10 to 12-year-olds) were on social networking sites. An older boy had allegedly singled out a girl online. He had pretended to be a girl from her school.

- Lady Sawers, wife of the new MI6 boss in Britain, posted on her social networking site photographs of her and her husband, their contacts and their home, causing a major security worry.

- In a recent case near Christchurch, a predator befriended hundreds of girls with what seemed harmless conversations and after weeks, sometimes months he would move to more sexual conversations and ask for body measurements. He coaxed photographs, sometimes naked, and in return sent photographs of his genitalia.