The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for connecting with friends and families. Yet, many popular online communication
sources may unintentionally expose users to unexpected, unintended and uninvited losses of privacy.
Internet users should exercise care and caution to avoid cyber crime and Internet fraud, but it does not take an evil-minded
hacker to learn all sorts of private information about you. All it takes is you.
Few of us would willingly share our most personal information with complete strangers, yet for millions of Internet users
participating in online forums and social network sites that is exactly what’s happening. The consequences range from
innocent—someone learns something about someone else and promptly dismisses it, to evil—a stalker or identity
thief takes advantage of the information.
Seemingly innocuous sites such as MySpace.com, Classmates.com and even the UNC Alumni database all provide a rich resource
of personal information—all of it provided willingly by well-meaning netizens.
As UNC alumni John and Elizabeth Edwards announced their challenge of treating her breast cancer and continuing with his presidential
campaign, I visited the UNC alumni database (an apparent software glitch allows me to search alumni information without being
a paying alumni association member) and found Elizabeth Edwards' listing. Now I can send a "get well" card to her listed home
address in Chapel Hill.
Classmates.com registrants can, for a limited time, see members' work, school and hobby histories without paying. I discovered
that one of our classmates, employed at a newspaper in our state's largest city, is a self-described "aggressive and focused"
"liberal" who drives a sports car and considers "fresh powder and a Swiss chalet" her dream vacation (but we probably already
knew all that!).
MySpace.com may offer the most and best free information about anyone who chooses to post a profile there. As you may recall,
I discovered the identity of my son's "anonymous" sperm donor through leads there that led me to information about his partner,
infant daughter and his whole family (including images of his apartment and his vacations).
Many of us can be found and probed through Web sites and blogs created for our classes. With my own unique name, one can easily
deduce my life story, the elements that comprise who I am, where I've worked and what I've done.
In most cases, these voluntary, if rather naïve, privacy breaches never cause us harm or discomfort. Nevertheless since that
potential exists, I fear more Internet regulation coming. Instead of more laws, before actively engaging in Internet activities,
persons need to carefully consider such issues as the posting of personal information and consider who can access Web sites.
Please click the next link to go to my "Best Sites of the UUU of the WWW" project page.