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Be SMART online, THINK privacy 

‘Think before you post’. ‘Think twice if it is necessary for a counterparty to request every of your personal data’. ‘Protect personal data on your device and reduce the risks of online privacy breach’. Just a few statements the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data uses to inform Hongkies on the privacy risks in the frequent use of a Smartphone. A hot issue in Hong Kong, next to the privacy risks of social networking sites. 

Hong Kong, the city where I have lived since last February. The city that is known for its expansive skyline and natural 'fragrant harbor', which is what the name ‘Hong Kong’ actually means. With a 1100 km2 landmass and a population of over seven million people, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hong Kong ranks the third most important leading international financial center, after London and New York. Hong Kong's population is almost 94% ethnic Chinese and roughly 6% from other groups, like me. Together, they are also known as ‘Hongkies’.

The street scenes of Hong Kong reveal many people looking down playing with their smartphone while walking, waiting for public transport, shopping, travelling, or even while talking to another person. It seems that cuddling with a smartphone and all the online surfing and gaming that come with it, is an easy way to escape from the busyness of the city. Not very different from the street scenes in Europe or USA, one would think, but in my view, nowhere is the excessive use of smartphones more apparent than in this part of the world. Honestly, I too am guilty of this on occasion when the city overwhelms me. Precisely at those moments, it is so comfy to disappear into my smartphone and become anonymous. Actually, as I see it, life on the streets of Hong Kong takes place in apps and social media rather than in real life where everyone seems the same. Hongkies have created their identities online, where they have a name and their own original profile with different backgrounds, interests, games and stories. 

As in Europe, privacy is a hot topic in Hong Kong. In 2012, the Personal Data Privacy Ordinance was amended, which has resulted in six Data Protection Principles that are similar to the key values of European privacy law. The Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data secures the protection of privacy of the individual with respect to personal data. One of their missions is to create awareness among Hongkies of their rights as data subjects and how to exercise them, especially where the use of smartphones and social media are concerned. For the younger Hongkies, there is the 'YOUth privacy portal', a non-stop portal for children and students to understand personal data privacy. All of this under a single banner: ‘Be SMART online, THINK privacy’.

While I got settled in Hong Kong and noticed the frequent use of smartphones in public space, I read Dave Egger's Orwellian novel The Circle. Eggers describes a future with one mega social-network corporation, ‘the Circle’, which has become the technological architect of daily life: arranging conversations, making payments, ranking human beings, avoiding and discovering deceases, et cetera. Eggers based this fictional utopia on the following underlying thoughts: 'Secrets are lies', 'Sharing is Caring' and 'Privacy is theft'.

Although these thoughts contrast strongly with the ‘Be SMART online, THINK privacy’ banner, and the privacy statements of the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, I can't help drawing a parallel with the digital life I experience every day. When I go out into the streets, to be absorbed in the Hong Kong arena and the rhythm of the city and thereby, to become a part of the (digital) Hongkie world. 

 Meta Wever

 Owner, Me Legal (IP/IT & Privacy Law) - cherish your business