The Government will have access to our metadata – but who do you already share your private information with?Fotolia_84051353_XS

It has been announced that new laws on metadata retention have passed Parliament in Australia, effectively making it legal for the government to access information including all of our online activity, who we have called and texted and when we did so. These new national security measures are an aim to prevent terrorism, according to the government. The data will include our location, which is sent out by our phones when they interact with nearby phone towers. Over the two years that the data will be retained, a spookily accurate and detailed map will gradually be built up, outlining our life and activities.

This realisation has already provoked outrage amongst many sections of society. Many feel the legislation is a huge breach of privacy and, what’s more, treats citizens as though they are already guilty of committing a crime and now need to be kept under surveillance (see the petition here).

urban woman with mobile phone

It has certainly forced me to reflect on just how much data I am already giving out. My online activity is frequent, particularly on social media and it often slips my mind to monitor my privacy settings – these new laws have served as a strong reminder. For those of us on Facebook and other social media platforms, we are actually already giving away immense amounts of data about ourselves, often without being fully aware of doing so. While we are not being forced to share this information, as is the case with the new laws, it is still crucial to be aware of what information you are providing. Particularly on smartphones, apps have the ability to track where we go thanks to geo-location services. Geo-location services allow a smartphone to use GPS to send out a signal to satellites, nearby phone towers or WiFi networks to track our location.

So, how can we be smart when using websites and apps that include geo-location?

Remember to check whether your location services are switched on – both in your phone settings and in the settings of the apps you are using. Some apps automatically include your exact location (correct to the very house number – creepy!) so bear in mind you are sending out that information. When using the Facebook messenger app, unless you enter the settings and un-tick the box titled “Location”, it will automatically include your location in every new message you send. This is something to watch out for, particularly when talking to people who you might not otherwise be sharing your address, work or school with. Additionally, when “Checking In” to places, always make sure that people who can see that post are people you would trust to know your location.

Being aware of geo-location services has never been more relevant. While the government will soon have unlimited access to our whereabouts when we are on our phones, you might already be unwittingly sharing your location with every body else.

– Annabelle Pendlebury

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