JOMC 710, EOTO Project
I. The UUU of the WWW: The Unexpected, Unintended and Uninvited Consequences
of Participating in the World Wide Web
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.
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
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.
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.
II. Five Biggest Fears
About the UUU on the WWW…
1. Misuse/Abuse of informationIII. Six Web Resources:
From obvious abuse of information
issues, such as stalking and identity theft, to more subtle misuses such as discrimination in housing, health and employment
opportunities, Web participants should familiarize themselves with the advantages and drawbacks of sharing personal information
on the Internet.
2. Government regulation/censorship
Abuses of personal information on the Internet, both real
and perceived, may lead to increased efforts on the part of lawmakers to regulate the Internet potentially threatening the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Fear of information misuse can lead to
self-censorship that may stymie creative expression or important thought that would benefit society.
4. Cost barriers
to information protection
With or without overt government intervention, private entrepreneurs may exploit fears of
losing privacy over the Internet by developing methods to obscure personal information thus creating privacy protections for
those persons able to afford it and creating yet another so-called digital divide.
5. Inability to conduct successful
Lack of information on the Internet may lead to thwarted genealogical research and reconnecting with lost
friends and family. The problem of differentiating the honorable from the sinister remains (certainly, one person’s
innocent curiosity may be someone else’s threatening stalker).
Title: Electronic Privacy Information Center Social Networking PrivacyIV. Recommendations
Source: Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Established in 1994, this public interest research center researches
and publishes information about privacy, free speech, open government and other civil liberties topics.
The referenced page provides background, news and resources concerning privacy issues about online social networking sites.
EPIC also offers a page dedicated to privacy topics at http://www.epic.org/privacy and an online guide to privacy resources here: http://www.epic.org/privacy/privacy_resources_faq.html. In addition, the EPIC homepage, http://www.epic.org, features a wealth of current information about cyber privacy news and issues.
2. Title: The Electronic Frontier Foundation
Source: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): "Defending Freedom in the Digital World," is a donor-funded nonprofit
confronting cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights.
Brief Description: This
page discusses privacy issues related to new and emerging technologies and provides links to specific topics of concern including:
government search and surveillance powers, data mining and dataveillance, data collection and retention, anonymity online
and privacy-intrusive technologies. Of particular interest is this EFF page about America Online's breach of users' privacy
through releasing its Web search queries with personally identifying information: http://www.eff.org/Privacy/AOL. The EFF also offers a useful "Bloggers' FAQ on Privacy" at http://www.eff.org/bloggers/lg/faq-privacy.php.
3. Title: National Cyber Security Alliance Reports/Cyber Security Library
Source: National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a public-private partnership not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, provided
cyber security awareness, education, tools and resources.
Brief Description: This part of the site offers enlightening
reports--including consumer opinions and information about online security threats. Its Social Networking Report (http://staysafeonline.org/features/SocialNetworkingReport.ppt) illuminates the threats social networking sites pose to adult users in terms of cyber crime, identity theft and loss of
privacy. NCSA also offers its "Top Eight Cyber Security Tips" at http://staysafeonline.org/practices/index.html.
4. Title: A privacy paradox: Social networking in the United States, Susan B. Barnes, 9/06
Source: FirstMonday, launched in 1995 in Denmark, provides an Internet-only, peer-reviewed journal about the Internet
now hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and its library.
Brief Description: While focusing on teens, this
well-researched and meticulously annotated paper discusses private versus public space and privacy issues in social networking.
It also examines suggestions and solutions to help resolve the privacy paradox. The author is a professor at the Rochester
Institute of Technology. The FirstMonday site also offers several other Internet privacy issue papers and surveys.
5. Title: Social network users have ruined their privacy, forever, Steve Kerrison, 12/26/06
Source: HEXUS.net is a UK-based commercial online IT resource providing current technology news and reviews by technically
adept journalists reaching more than a million unique visitors each month, who read more than 10 million pages of content.
Description: This article offers a good overview of the often self-made privacy problems for social network participants,
noting the existence of archival potentials from search engines and The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/web/web.php).
6. Title: Link by Link; Lest We Regret Our Digital Breadcrumbs, Tom Zeller, 6/12/06
Address: http://snipurl.com/1dtgb (this is the "print view" version)
Source: The New York Times
Brief Description: This article discusses the
concept of "digital breadcrumbs," our data droppings around the Internet that leave a trail back to us. The article also references
a good additional source: technology journalist John Battelle (http://www.battellemedia.com), who is quoted in the article stating, "We are living online, but have yet to fully realize the implications of doing so.
One of those implications is that our tracks through the digital sand are eternal." The New York Times offers ongoing
excellent coverage of new technologies and related issues, including its famous story about American Online's privacy breach
(noted above in #2; the EFF entry): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/technology/09aol.html?ex=1174795200&en=613d15855f133828&ei=5070
1. Increase Awareness
Participants in World Wide Web sites should fully
understand the realities of posting personal information—both the potential positive aspects and negative consequences.
In my research of this topic, public opinion surveys indicated that awareness of misuse of information, beyond
Existing Privacy Laws
Instead of creating new laws for what amounts to an abdication of personal responsibility, lawmakers
and law officers should pledge to enforce existing privacy laws and work for stronger penalties for illegal abuse of personal
3. Private/Public Initiatives for Protecting Privacy
Organizations offering consumers online opportunities
for participating in social network sites and special interest groups and forums should consider ways of encouraging privacy
and assisting in its maintenance. Discreetly placed privacy policies are not enough. One suggestion I offer is the implementation
of an "Are You Sure" screen prior to accepting and posting personal information. The user would enter information and encounter
a warning of potential privacy concerns by willingly posting personal information, as in e-commerce in which the user enjoys
an opportunity to review her/his information prior to completion of the transaction. This may also create lessened liability
for site owners in the event of litigation.
4. Participate in Private Sites
While not failsafe in the Internet world,
posting to protected sites reduces the chance of old archives turning up. Witness postings on our Blackboard forums, unable
to be retrieved outside of our class (and JOMC/DE officials), and those on our previous class blogs, viewable to a global
5. Be Judicious in Revealing Information
My most important recommendation for protecting privacy requires
Internet users to act judiciously in determining what personal information they want accessible to the world. The time to
realize that your information is too available is before you post it to the Internet. The WWW is a double-edged sword. Instant
access to seemingly infinite information is priceless, yet infinite access to your personal information may prove costly.