The Dark Side Of Internet Privacy

by John Hawkins | October 2, 2006 11:14 am

There are a lot of privacy zealots on the net — and that’s fine to a point. People shouldn’t have spyware on their computers telling ad companies where they go. They shouldn’t have search engines keeping a running tally of what their account or IP is looking for. People should be able to buy things online without having to worry about someone getting access to their credit card.

But, there’s a real dark side to this zest for privacy on the net as well. For example[1]:

“Authorities are searching for whomever posted a long list and description of supposed sexual encounters between dozens of high school students on the online networking site

Oconee County Sheriff’s officials said they were investigating who posted the gossip about North Oconee High School students Sept. 1-9. Since gossip isn’t a crime, the sheriff’s report lists the offense as distributing obscene materials to minors. The list describes sexual encounters and could be accessed by people younger than 18.

…Kilpatrick said that MySpace gave him the e-mail address of the person who created the site, but that it was an anonymous Yahoo account. He said he would subpoena BellSouth, the Internet service provider used to create the e-mail address, to try to determine who paid for the Internet service.”

Obviously, if the person putting up this website would have had to have his name attached to it, it would have never seen the light of day. The same goes for trolls and people who post libel anonymously. Every time I read about an anonymous email remailer or some browser that hides IPS, I can’t help but think that it makes it that much harder to get rid of disruptive people in the comments section or track down the people responsible for death threats.

Oh, and while we’re on death threats, why is it not uncommon for people to get death threats on the net? Because people can post anonymously. Why is the internet so rude compared to “the real world?” Because you can post anonymously. Why do hackers break into people’s computers? Because they think they can do it anonymously without getting caught. In fact, a lot of the worst things about the net are related, in some form or fashion, to the anonymity that the internet provides.

So, does that mean that this post is a call for legislative action? No. But, it is an attempt to counter the whole, “more privacy is always better,” attitude that seems to be the default position of most netizens. If anything, we may have gone a little (not a lot) too far in that direction.

  1. example:

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