Stressing on child online safety, a Kiwi watchdog has revealed that there is a growing concern about the information children share on the Internet.
A Privacy Commission survey revealed that nearly 45 percent of Kiwis have online profiles, most on Facebook, and that more than half think that online social networking sites are private.
But the rush to social networking, which is up from 32 percent last June and 14 per cent in August 2007, coincides with greater concerns over online privacy, especially for children.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said that a surprising number of people, 57 percent, believed social networking sites were mostly private spaces.
She said there was an illusion of privacy on sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, but personal details or pictures could be easily accessed by anyone.
A high percentage of social network users were children, and Shroff encouraged vigilance in protecting them on the Internet.
"The internet offers a huge amount in terms of entertainment, education and ability to communicate with others, but there are risks too," the New Zealand Herald quoted her as saying.
"When children are online they can and do give away a lot of information about themselves, without necessarily being aware of the consequences," she explained.
Shroff cited cases of identity theft of children as young as 10 which resulted in online abuse on Facebook.
"Children can risk themselves and their families by revealing personal and intimate information, which enables harms such as identity crime, stalking, text bullying and invasion of privacy in various ways," she stated.
In a survey by the Internet safety organisation Netsafe, 25 percent of secondary school students said they had been aggressively sexually solicited online.
Children sharing personal details online were the greatest concern among people surveyed by the Privacy Commissioner's office, 88 percent said they worried about the information their children revealed online.
Seventy-nine per cent were concerned about the security of personal information held by overseas businesses.
Netsafe operations manager Lee Chisholm said any personal information put online should be considered public and permanently accessible.
Even if a user had tight privacy settings on a social network, messages or pictures could be relayed by friends and could resurface years after being posted.
Netsafe had observed some encouraging patterns in children's Internet use, she said.
"Young people are quite savvy about keeping knowledge online," she stated.
Abuse and harassment did happen, but using social networking sites "is not as big a risk as adults tend to think it is".
The Privacy Commissioner's study found 86 percent of users said they knew how to protect their privacy by changing settings, and 66 percent said they had altered their privacy settings.
The commissioner added that Internet users should, if necessary, put pressure on internet giants such as Google and Facebook to protect their privacy.
Both sites have been criticised internationally for privacy breaches or not guaranteeing users' safety.
Last month, Shroff wrote a formal complaint to Google after it introduced its Buzz social network, accusing it of commercially experimenting on New Zealanders.
Information technology commentator Peter Griffin said privacy rights would be increasingly strained as Internet giants tried to make social networks profitable by using targeted advertising.
He cited Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's recent observation that the age of privacy was over.
Shroff recommended that people could use the resources on Internet safety available through Hector's World, Netsafe and the Privacy Commissioner's website.
The privacy survey also showed the organisations most trusted in holding personal information were health service providers, with a 94 percent confidence rating.
This was followed by the police on 88 percent, Inland Revenue on 84 percent and ACC on 68 percent.
The Law Commission is reviewing the Privacy Act. It says rapid advances in technology have challenged rights to privacy.