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A woman was accused of being a ‘dodgy trader’ by an online community.  Her personal information, including her address, photos, bank account and cell phone numbers were all posted in a comments thread on the website. 

She told the website administrators that the information about her was wrong and asked for it to be immediately removed. The website’s administrators refused to remove the information.  They told the woman that they would only consider her request if she had evidence to show that the claims about her were wrong.

The woman complained to us.  She told us she suffered harm as a result of the allegations.  When she applied for a mortgage, she felt humiliated when the bank questioned her about the comments on the website.  She also received crank calls from anonymous callers who referred to the claims.

We told the site administrators that we were concerned because this was the second complaint we had received about that online community.  We considered whether the site had met its Privacy Act obligations, including correcting personal information when asked; making sure personal information on the site was relevant, up to date and not misleading; and not improperly disclosing personal information (privacy principles 7, 8 and 11). 

We talked to the website administrators about the need to moderate comments, and advised them not to use anyone’s full name or contact details, unless they had consented. 

We also advised the site administrators that they should ask people to provide proof of any potentially defamatory assertions so they could be tested for accuracy before being published.  People should also be made aware that if they were named on the website they had a right of reply.  If they asked for their personal information to be removed, that request should be responded to as soon as possible.

The website administrator told us our advice had “not been enthusiastically received” by the rest of the website team.  However, they did eventually remove all the information about the woman.

On that basis, we closed the complaint file.

February 2016

Disclosure of personal information  – disclosure of personal information on a website – interference with privacy – harm – Privacy Act 1993; principles 7, 8 and 11