Social networking has become a defining feature of the internet for many of us today. We find information and catch up on the latest news through what our contacts post on Twitter or Facebook. We build our trust based what other people say through their comments, links, reviews and opinions, rather than what is officially produced by institutions such as the media, private corporations or the government.

This is also the democratising potential of the internet. It has enabled us to create spaces, engage with each other, mobilise for action and represent ourselves with more power. But what happens when trust is compromised, privacy violated and abuse happens?

There are many ways that privacy can be at risk. It can start from our limited awareness on individual users’ right to privacy, what this means on an increasingly complex and interconnected online space, and our collective responsibility to protect this right.

We might share passwords without considering the amount of personal information that is concentrated in these spaces, not just about ourselves, but about other people we are connected to.  Or inadvertently share things about other people in our networks without realising that this violates their right to privacy – for example, disclosing someone’s sexual orientation with a comment when the person has chosen to keep this private because of personal risks.

This is compounded by the fact that there are not many countries with laws that protect citizen’s right to privacy, and representatives of online social networking companies dismissing the real concern of its users regarding privacy issues.

Further, it’s important to realise that “free” services are never really free. We may use social networking sites strategically to help us exercise a range of our fundamental human rights, but they are governed by a profit-motive. In exchange for our personal information, such sites serve up highly personalised publicity based on our “likes”, clicks, and searches. Google made USD23.9 billion in 2010 alone, mostly from targetted advertising.  Social networking sites keep track of all our interconnections, and though we no longer see the information we delete, nothing is deleted. Our data is is too valuable a commodity.

On another level, it is also incredibly easy to copy and share content on the internet. So even if you have deleted for example, a photograph or video, it does not guarantee that someone else hasn't copied and posted it online somewhere else.

Protect privacy!

Our right to privacy is especially important in a socially-networked environment because of the amount of personal information that we put into these spaces on a daily basis.  Social networking platforms are immensely useful and can be powerful vehicles for social and political transformation. But this value is limited if we fail to take collective responsibility over the need to protect and uphold our right to privacy.

Take back the tech! Exercise your right to privacy, demand accountability & start a conversation.


  • Go to your top 3 social networking accounts and check out their privacy policy.
  • Find out what data they store, for what purpose, who they share it with, for how long, and how can you request for your information to be deleted.
  • Check out your privacy settings and spend 30 minutes of your time today configuring them to better protect your information and those of your contacts.
  • Here are useful resources on how to configure privacy settings for some of the popular social networks:
  • Find out more about social networking, risks and good privacy practices on the Take Back the Tech! "Be safe" resource here.
  • Before you post, stop and think:
  • Will this violate someone else’s right to privacy? Are you going to be okay with this information, photograph or video to be public and online in 1, 3, 5 or 10 years time?


  • Explore and think about different privacy dimensions in your online activities.
  • Start a privacy discussion by playing “privacy catcher” with your offline social networks.
  • Make a paper origami “privacy catcher”.
  • Fold a square piece of paper following the diagram below.

Take Back the Tech

  • Or download and save the image here, then print, cut it out and fold it according to the lines.
  • Or see how to make one on this video.
  • Colour the 4 top square flaps different colours.
  • Flip it over to the side with four triangle flaps. Each triangle should have a fold dividing it in half, making a total of 8 triangles.
  • Put a symbol on each triangle:
    • Padlock for passwords
    • Spider for social networks
    • Face for photos and videos
    • Globe for geographic location
    • Envelope for online mail
    • Mouth for online chatting
    • Book for contact directory
    • Magnifying glass for searching and surfing
  • Open up the triangles and write the following 8 options on the opposite side.
    • intimate partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse
    • your best friend
    • the police
    • your boss/teacher
    • your sibling
    • a stranger
    • the bank
    • the government
    • religious authority
  • Find a friend (or several!).
  • Ask them to pick a colour and spell it out, counting each letter with your “privacy catcher” by opening and closing it.
  • When you stop, ask them to pick one of the symbols.
  • Depending on the symbol chosen, ask a privacy question. The answer should either be spelled out or a number, so that your privacy catcher can “count” it.  (Even if the answer is  “yes” or “no” your “privacy catcher” can spell that out.)
  • For example, if they choose the padlock, you can ask a password-related question: how long is your password? How many passwords do you have? How many people know your password? 
    If they choose a face for photos or videos, how many photos do you have online?  (if they have hundreds, spell, don't count!) do you tag your photos with people's names and profiles? Have you ever seen/forwarded a nude photo that was meant to be private?
  • Spell or count out the answer and ask them to pick another symbol.  Take note of the symbol and open the flap.
  • Read what is below and ask your friend “What happened with X (the person or institution under the flap) and Y (the symbol)?  For example:
    • What happened with the police and your email?
    • What happened with your sibling and Twitter?
  • Your friend then creates a privacy-related story of what happened based on the person and the symbol shown.
  • Your friend then asks you, “What would you do?”
  • It’s your turn to come up with an answer that responds to the situation that can help protect your right to privacy.
  • Pass the “privacy catcher” to the other person, and play again (and again!)
  • Bring your “privacy catcher” to school, to work, to your favourite sports place, bus stop, local hangout place, and start a conversation on privacy. Connect and play!

Reflect, explore and engage critically on your right to privacy. Privacy is our right, and it is our collective responsibility to create an online (and offline) environment that is safe and that promotes and respects privacy. Take back the tech!