Invasion of Privacy? What you need to know about sharing information online

Kenyans were recently treated to a MTV Cribs show by a teenager on Snapchat/a social media site. This is a recent trend which often starts out as innocent fun with friends(presumably) where youth do a virtual tour of where they live.
Unfortunately in the recent incident, it ended up beyond Snapchat and onto WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube with queries on her source of opulence. It escalated to a point where the young lady asked for help to have YouTube videos of the house tour pulled down as she alleged that was a breach of her right to privacy.

This is not the first time a show of opulence has gotten someone in trouble. In the same week, a daughter of a South African ambassador tweeted that she had been a beneficiary of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and at the same time referred to her luxurious life and upbringing. This has stirred up controversy among South Africans as NSFAS is mandated to give university scholarships to only needy South Africans.

Oversharing disease

Oftenly, internet users voluntarily overshare their personal information online either knowingly or unknowingly of potential effects. Over the past 3 years social media companies have become more aware of research around oversharing and this led to the December 2018 introduction of a feature called “Close Friends.” This setting is similar to the Facebook setting for “Share with Public” or “Share with friends” and they all allow users to choose who gets to view their content. 

Importantly, beyond letting cats out of the bag and drawing unnecessary attention from the unwanted contacts, oversharing online can have long-term consequences to one’s social life, education and even, chances for opportunities. We often give out personal information about our telephone numbers, birthdates, our health issues, education, social escapades, area of residence, high value possessions, names and pictures of family members. All this information contributes to a data profile that can be collated by companies, crooks, and trolls.

Most of the time, this information usually doesn’t really mean anything on its own but when it is combined, it can be damaging. Some of that information can be answers to secondary security questions to online accounts which exposes your accounts to be compromised and identity theft or to a similar incident to when Kim Kardashian was robbed in Paris after posting photos of expensive jewelry. 

The right to be forgotten

An important question often asked is whether one can claim that their privacy has been violated if a blogger or a newspaper picks one’s glamorous posts on social media then writes on them.

First, courts across Common law jurisdictions have taken the  general view that the voluntary release of personal information to a large number of social media friends is essentially the same as releasing it to the public at large, despite one having as few as 300 friends online. This is very well documented in two Canadian Superior Court decisions in the cases of Leduc v. Roman (2009) and Murphy v. Perger (2007).

The remedy that the law offers, albeit with so many disclaimers is the right to be forgotten. This right is a child of privacy and data protection law in the 2014 case called Google versus Spain. In this case the European Court of Justice ruled that European citizens have a right to request commercial search firms, such as Google, that gather personal information for profit to remove links to private information when asked, provided the information is no longer relevant. 

The tenets of this judgement were later on enshrined in the General Data Protection Regulations and locally, in the Kenyan Data Protection Act of 2019. Under section 40 of the Act, it provides for the right of rectification and erasure. But this law has its limits as the information has to be-inaccurate, out-dated, incomplete or misleading.

Unfortunately,this is not a solution to regrettable social media posts and content generated from such posts. This is because one exemption to data processing is processing that is undertaken by a person for the publication of literary or artistic material. Blog posts and videos fall under this category and unfortunately for public figures, the person who posted the information can use public interest as a defence incase sued. However if the information is defamatory, one can sue for defamation under Kenya’s 2013 Defamation Act.

Firstly, as a solution, internet users should Review all their online content, and remove anything that could expose too much personal information about themselves. This would involve pruning one’s contact lists. With technology such as WhatsApp status, there are people in one’s contact lists who view one’s posts who should not. One has the option of blocking them from viewing one’s statuses if one does not want to delete their contacts.

In conclusion, One cannot claim invasion of privacy after voluntarily posting personal identifiable information online. Posting content on social platforms makes it available to anyone regardless of whether they are friends or foe.

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