A recent high-profile criminal investigation into the actions of several senior eBay employees has highlighted the importance of consumer privacy laws. In June 2020, six former eBay executives and staff members were charged with online stalking after carrying out a series of harassing pranks and sending threatening messages to a couple located in Massachusetts. The charged former employees made several visits to the victim’s home, allegedly angered by a newsletter they regularly distributed alongside comments made via Twitter which were critical of eBay and its practises. Part of their harassment campaign included publishing the victim’s home address online and setting up fake social media accounts in their names.

What Is Cyberstalking?

Whilst it is an extreme example, the case raises the important question of how to protect your privacy online- particularly within the professional world. Online stalking can take many forms ⎯ making unwanted contact, sharing personal material, accessing private accounts, impersonating your identity online or tracking you, be it physically or electronically. It is important to recognise that whilst the eBay situation involved highly overt practises, there are more subtle forms of online stalking which can be just as harmful and upsetting.In a professional consumer context, there exist measures which are designed to protect individuals from these types of unwanted attacks.

How You’re Protected ⎯ Legally

The Australian Privacy Act (APP) provides legally binding rules and guidelines designed to promote and protect the privacy of individuals and regulate the handling of personal information. Everything from an individual’s name, signature, date of birth and address to photographs, IP addresses and biometric data is classified as personal information. Sensitive information is classified as information or opinions regarding an individual’s racial origin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and criminal record. Whilst organisations and agencies sometimes need personal information to carry out their work, they must collect it in a fair and lawful manner and sensitive information requires an additional level of consent to be collected. The APP requires organisations and agencies that collect information to uphold several principles, including giving reason for data collection and providing information to individual’s surrounding the organisation’s privacy policy.

The Outcome For eBay

Suffice to say the collection and use ofthe eBay victims’ personal data was grossly mishandled by individuals at the company. After completing their own investigations the corporation fired the six employees and spoke out in support of the victims, saying that they “do not tolerate this kind of behaviour. eBay apologises to the affected individuals and is sorry that they were subjected to this.”Besides losing their jobs, the charged former employees face up to $250,000 in fines and five years in prison. 

What You Can Do To Ensure Your Safety

It is encouraging that there are legal ramifications for online stalking, however there are several easy things that you can do at home to protect your privacy. Maintaining physical vigilance over your devices, installing security software, practising good password management and reviewing the privacy settings in all your online accounts are advised to safeguard your privacy online. Knowing your rights under the Australian Privacy Act and understanding how companies use your personal information is also a great way to protect yourself from online identity theft or stalking.