Monday, February 7, 2011

Did the Internet Kill Privacy?

From CBSNews ...

"For the first time, people were sneaking around taking photos of other people without their permission," said Lane.

It sparked a 1890 Harvard Law Review article in which future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and attorney Samuel Warren warned against an ongoing loss of privacy!

Today, one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is something called data mining: companies collecting our private information, packaging it, using it, selling it.

Michael Fertik, a Harvard Law School grad who runs a company called, came up with information I thought was private. I was wrong.

"I think this is your Social Security number," Fertik said. It was!

He also revealed what he called my "online reputation," based mainly on where I happen to live.

"Our query is pretty confident that you're a Democrat and pretty confident that you're a Catholic," Fertik said.

"But that may not be correct," said Moriarty.

"It may just not be correct," he explained.

And then there's something that could cause a real headache down the road …

"There's an Erin F. Moriarty who grew up just a few miles where you did, who has been convicted of serving alcohol to minors," Fertik said. "And it'd be very easy for a machine to confuse you and that person, and to think that you are a convicted criminal."

Even though the OTHER Erin is 20 years younger!

Fertik's company helps people track down and correct misinformation. But most of us will never even know it's there.

"The dossier on each of us that is easily aggregated digitally is now probably, let's call it ten pages," Fertik said. "Four years ago it was two pages. In four or five years, it's going to be 100 pages. Why? Because the amount of data that is being collected about each of us, proliferates. Your phone records, your rental records, those different databases that no one originally intended to be combined with one another are being combined now with blazing speed."

But David J. Moore, who runs 24/7 RealMedia, an Internet advertising firm, seems unfazed.

He points out that marketing information about potential customers is really nothing new.

"Magazine publishers for years have been selling the list of subscribers they have to the advertisers that want to send a mailing to them," he said.

And keep in mind: the more specific and detailed the information, the better companies can target their advertisements to customers who really want it.

"Let's ask the 500 million people that are on Facebook how concerned are they about their privacy," Moore said. "Or the 100 million that are on MySpace? Most of them really don't care."

Don't tell that to high school teacher Ashley Payne.

"Yes, I put it on the Internet, so you can make that argument," she said. "But it sort of feels like the same thing as if I had put the pictures in a shoebox in my house and someone came in and took them and showed one of them to the principal."

What's worse, after she resigned her job at Apalachee High School, Payne says she learned the original complaint came in an anonymous e-mail - not in a phone call from an angry parent.

"No parent has ever claimed it," Payne said. "There's never been any other complaints against me at this school from teachers, students or parents."

Officials at the Barrow County Schools, who declined to speak to "Sunday Morning," have so far refused to re-hire Payne.

In court documents, they say teachers were warned about "unacceptable online activities" by the district. Payne's page, they say, "promoted alcohol use" and "contained profanity."

She is now in graduate school and is suing the district. She says she wants to be sure that the Internet won't just record how Ashley Payne lost her job, but that she fought back.

"I want to clear my name, first of all," she said. "And I just want to be back in the classroom, if not that classroom, a classroom. I want to get back doing what I went to school for, my passion in life."


Noemi Beltran said...

Ms.Payne's situation was rather unfortunate but sadly that is a consequence of releasing information on the internet. It was ironic that she was reported through the internet itself rather than a more traditional method but I think this highlights the growing ease by which people use the internet.
At the same time, losing a teaching position over some online photos and profanity seems like a harsh punishment considering that most teachers do actively use social networks.I personally know teachers who always post pictures of themselves drinking of complaining about a rough day in the classroom and frankly if every single teacher who posted something remotely 'inappropriately' online were pursued, the U.S. would be left with a need for substitute teachers. As we discussed in class, privacy laws need to catch up with current times in order to properly assess every situation that occurs online. Although this in itself is a difficult task, if companies and the government do not want to face lawsuit after lawsuit then some standard privacy laws really need to come into effect before internet privacy reaches a new level.

Alex M said...

The internet has not killed privacy, it has just altered the definition of privacy. While it is unfortunate that images of Ms. Payne surfaced on the internet and subsequently led to her being fired, once they were on the internet, they could no longer be considered truly private. While we can clearly see how Ms. Payne can feel as if she has been wronged, and understandably so, the issue here is one of understanding what it is to be a private person who actively contributes to various social media sites in such ways that are unprofessional in the modern era. Given the need for adjustments, it is harsh of the school to immediately terminate her job, but I would not be surprised, as we as a society adapted to this internet culture, saw this sort of treatment towards professionals happening more and more often.