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  • 4 February 2013 15:14

Social media stokes workplace privacy fears in Australia

According to AVG Technologies’ latest Digital Diaries study, Digital Work Life, 6 out of 10 Australian adults (62 per cent) who participated in its survey believe privacy in the workplace has been eroded with the proliferation of social media. The seventh instalment in AVG’s Digital Diaries series includes responses from 4,000 adults in ten countries in relation to cyber-bullying in the workplace.

The study found that mis-use of social media infiltrates the workplace with often negative effects on employees’ privacy, forcing many to switch off or limit their use of social networking sites.

• 8 per cent of Australian respondents discovered secret discussions about them online were initiated by colleagues using social media

• 10 per cent have had embarrassing photos or videos taken at a work event and uploaded onto social media sites. This is as high as 19 per cent in Spain and 14 per cent in the UK.

• A small number of Aussie adults (7 per cent) even found themselves subjected to unwanted romantic advances through online media, and in the US this number rose to one in ten of all adults surveyed.

As the use of social media increases for both personal and professional purposes, the privacy many workers value and expect is slowly diminishing through employee mis-use and cyber-bullying. To prevent personal information from being circulated at work, many adults are turning away from social media altogether. Of those Australians who agreed social media has eroded their privacy at work, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) now avoid posting on social networks that have caused them privacy concerns, while 25 per cent limit their posts. More than half (52 per cent) are more careful about what they post.

Michael McKinnon, Security Advisor at AVG Technologies AU, said: “This study highlights the need for a combination of greater education around social media alongside increased attention and care by both employees and employers to their social media etiquette at work.

“And we’re not just talking about employees remaining responsible for what they post online on social networks, and ensuring it is not bringing themselves or their company into disrepute or harming their colleagues; employers can trip themselves up just as easily when managing the company’s own social media presence. Until everyone is clear about exactly what is and isn’t acceptable online behaviour, trying to enforce policies will fail, leaving the door open to cyber-bullying and invasion of privacy.”

Jenny Ungless, an independent HR Consultant and life coach, commented on the findings:

“While you can’t completely control what people say about you online, you can control the ‘ammunition’ they have against you. Being more careful about your posts on social networks or ensuring your privacy settings protect your personal information are just a few of the steps you can take. The research shows adults are now finding themselves in uncharted territory when it comes to social media in the workplace. Having to ward off colleagues’ romantic advances online, suffer the embarrassment of unwanted personal photos seen by colleagues or have personal details from social networks used against you, are all things that adults haven’t typically had to deal with. We often talk about bringing work home with us, yet little has been done to date to tackle our home-life now being taken into the office and the possible implications of this.”

Other key findings include:

• Forms of cyber-bullying: Nine out of ten (91 per cent) of Australian adults surveyed believe that sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constitutes cyber-bullying (93 per cent in UK and New Zealand). Other forms of cyber-bullying include posting negative comments on a social media site about a colleague’s appearance at a work event (89 per cent) and criticising a colleague behind their back through email, instant messaging, social media or SMS (85 per cent).

• Incriminating or embarrassing activity online: Eight per cent has had a manager use information which has been found on a social media site against them or a colleague. This is highest in the US (13 per cent) and Czech Republic (12 per cent).

• Cyber-bullying driving workplace confrontations: Cyber-bullying can easily spill over into heated debates in the workplace with more than half (51 per cent) of surveyed Aussie adults admitting they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were the victim of cyber-bullying. This is as high as 65 per cent in Germany, 56 per cent in France and 54 per cent in Czech Republic. Only 8 per cent would retaliate to cyber-bullying through digital communication (12 per cent in the US).

• Cyber-bullying policies: 57 per cent of Australian adults in the survey know of a comprehensive policy in their workplace which covers cyber-bullying. Australia is highest in the survey followed by the UK (51 per cent) and lowest in France (20 per cent) and Germany (23 per cent). A quarter of all respondents in the survey (25 per cent) said they were not protected from cyber-bullying as their workplaces do not cover this within existing policies, compared to only 13 per cent in Australia (with 30 per cent saying they didn’t know)*.

• Social media responsibility: Just over half of Australian adults surveyed (53 per cent) believe their company is responsible for the online behaviour of employees during work hours if they are using their personal social media accounts. Sentiment is felt strongest in Canada (63 per cent) and the US (61 per cent) while only 27 per cent of Germans agree with this. Outside of work hours, only 16 per cent of adults agree that companies are responsible for employees’ online behaviour.


* NB: While there is no specific law in Australia that requires employers to have an anti-cyber-bullying policy for their staff, there are obligations in various pieces of legislation that make it prudent for an employer to have one.

About AVG Digital Diaries

The first stage of AVG’s Digital Diaries campaign, Digital Birth, focused on children from birth to age two. The study, released in October 2010, found that on average (from those surveyed), infants acquire a digital identity by the age of six months old. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of children have had their pre-birth scans uploaded to the Internet by their parent – establishing a digital footprint even before birth. The second stage, Digital Skills, was released in January 2011 and showed that for two to five year olds, ‘tech’ skills are increasingly replacing ‘life’ skills. In fact, many toddlers could use a mouse and play a computer game, but could not ride a bike, swim or tie their shoelaces.

Digital Playground, released in June 2011, found nearly half of the surveyed six to nine year olds talk to friends online and use social networks. This was followed with Digital Maturity in November 2011, which revealed how 11 year olds had developed adult skills in technology. Digital Coming of Age, the fifth instalment of AVG’s Digital Diaries study was released in April 2012, which interviewed parents of 14-17 year olds, found that nearly half of those parents keep tabs on teens via Facebook, latest AVG Technologies’ research reveals.

Digital Baggage - released in October 2012 delved further into the theme of social media usage. Research, which involved interviews with 18-25 year olds about their online habits, found that one quarter of the respondents were Facebook friends with their boss - which could potentially damage their career prospects.

The seventh instalment, Digital Work Life, examines cyber-bullying and privacy in the workplace with 4,000 workers surveyed across ten countries: UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Czech Republic. More than half of the respondents revealed that the mis-use of social media has eroded privacy in the workplace.

Research for all stages of the Digital Diaries series was conducted by Research Now on behalf of AVG Technologies.

More information visit:

About AVG —

AVG Technologies’ mission is to simplify, optimise and secure the Internet experience, providing peace of mind to a connected world. AVG’s powerful yet easy-to-use software and online services put users in control of their Internet experience. By choosing AVG’s software and services, users become part of a trusted global community that benefits from inherent network effects, mutual protection and support. AVG has grown its user base to 143 million active users as of September 30, 2012 and offers a product portfolio that targets the consumer and small business markets and includes Internet security, PC performance optimisation, online backup, mobile security and identity protection.

AVG Media Contacts:

Michael McKinnon AVG 03 9581 0845

Shuna Boyd BoydPR 02 9418 8100

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