Balancing Internet Privacy
Published February 2001

If you have a home page, a personal or a commercial website it is important to consider not only your privacy issues but the privacy of others. Just recently the New Zealand Golf Association removed information from their site which detailed tee-off dates and scores of individual golfers. This was information that may have invaded the privacy of the individuals concerned, particularly if an individual mentioned had not wished people to know that s/he was playing golf on the given day.

Perhaps the primary point to remember is that whatever you put up on your website you are in effect publishing. So you do need to be sure that you are not trumpeting information about others that they may object to you putting out in the public arena. It could be prudent to check with the individuals that you mention on your site, such as friends and family members, that they are happy about the information you are publishing, particularly if you are mentioning personal details about them such as addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, workplaces, dates/times at which they were engaged in particular activities.

On the other hand if you are offering a commercial service via a website or via an email it is important that you do provide sufficient contact information to maintain your commercial credibility. Even so, there can be pitfalls. A situation came to light, a few months ago, of a Russian website that had copied the lay-out, company and personnel information (including staff photographs, experience and qualifications) from a local company's website. They translated the English into Russian and changed the name of the company to present the company and staff as a Russian company with Russian staff. A safeguard against this type of theft is to make the areas of your commercial website that hold personal information about staff password protected (that is accessible only with a password which the company provides to clients) but do ensure that credible contact details are available to all comers, otherwise you are unlikely to be seen as a bona fide company.

The same applies to enquires that you may make to a commercial or volunteer organisation, seeking a service, or some form of assistance. Unless it is a service that operates as a matter of course with anonymous clients (such a youthline and the Samaritans for example), if you do not make clear who you are, how you can be contacted, what service you require and if the organisation is aimed at a certain clientele, that you are of the clientele, then don’t expect to be taken seriously. Because email is a relatively informal form of communication it is easy to forget that professional transactions and communications seeking a service do require a degree of formality and courtesy, contact details and the like. Just as anonymous and/or discourteous letters and phonecalls are rarely taken seriously the same applies to emails demanding information and assistance which do not identify who the sender is beyond an email address or clarify why they are making the request. Privacy is a balancing act on the internet.

This page last updated on 18/05/2001 13:46

© Glynne MacLean 1999-2002

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