James Butler's Blog

Expectations of Privacy

June 07, 2010 13:15

Do you have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in your online activites?

You have some expectation of privacy, but how much is actually reasonable? You probably know that you are leaving information about yourself all along your clickpath, but how much do you think is "reasonable"?

This is pretty simple, from my personal perspective on the legal point of view.

DISCLAIMER: As most of you know, I Am Not A Lawyer. These are my opinions, not legal advice. You have been warned.

The bottom line is, ALL of your online activities are voluntary. You have chosen to travel the paths you travel. You control to whom you reveal your information by which links you choose to click. You are essentially speeding down the highway with your pants down, flashing everyone you pass.

If you don't want XYZ.com to know anything about you, don't visit them.

Unfortunately, this simplistic, litigation-proof perspective does not completely reflect reality.

In reality, there are hundreds and even thousands of players in a single online session. Each of them does different things with the information you are carrying with you, and each of them has different ways of accepting or denying your requests for service, depending on how much information you offer.

For example ...

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The FCC and the ISPs

June 05, 2010 02:23

A couple of months ago, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the Federal Communications Commission in their effort to gain regulatory power over Internet service providers. This decision reminds us of the fact that there is no unified body currently providing legal oversight to the service provider industry. The rules of the road are set by the players. That is very interesting to me.

Unlike most industries, the Internet has gone through several major reinventions during its growth. Prospects for continuing evolution are excellent. Initially a tool for academic collaboration, then with an emphasis on national defense, then to interpersonal community development, and most recently dedicated to commercial pursuits, the Internet's growth has included almost every major concept embodied in a modern industrialized society.

The fact that, so far, market forces in the service provider arena seem to be working pretty well to keep the machine operating smoothly is, most interestingly to me, an example of how the diversity of the participant pool and the strength of its user community help to maintain its equilibrium.

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Chat Room Chaos

June 04, 2010 13:32

In the bloody aftermath, Smiley picked his way through the shattered remnants of the battle royale. A wry grin stole across his face.

"I won," he whispered to himself. Then, shouting, "I WON!!"

A chat room riot ain't pretty. The spectacle of Smileys gone mad is frightening!

But, seriously ... it seems that the quality of online discourse is getting worse, overall.

We have the freedom provided by the protection of relative anonymity to express any idea that pops into our heads. Unfortunately, almost all of the current crop of near-real-time online group interaction tools, like chat and Twitter, provide an environment within which it is almost impossible to interrupt someone. These tools create a delay between you saying something and your reception of a response. There are a host of more latent group interaction tools, like forums and message boards, that enforce an even greater distance between the call and the response, increasing one's insulation from the relative "reality" of the conversation.

Combine those elements with the fact that, as humans, we have the tendency to want to come out on top, in any situation, and you have the recipe for extreme one-upmanship. With Smileys.

Web etiquette demands that you be just as polite in cyberspace as you would be in meatspace. The same guidelines apply. If you wouldn't insult someone's mother face-to-face, it's not appropriate to do it in the middle of a chat, either. Of course, if you would insult someone's mother, face-to-face, it's still not okay to do it online.

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You can, but should you? Part 2

June 03, 2010 15:23

Continued from Part 1...

Part 2: "Scraping" Competitor Websites

"Scraping" data from websites is how Google gets its listings, so where's the ethical challenge? 

There is a distinction between operating a search engine's probing "spider" algorithm for the purpose of discovering and including found resources in a listing service supported by ads, and operating a probing "spider" algorithm for the purpose of extracting and including found resources in a marketing program supported by subscriptions.

It is difficult to argue that Google's inclusion of paid data, data for which the site owner paid, like mailing list data, and your inclusion of paid data are significantly different, except when it comes to the end use of that data, its specificity, and its availability as commercial product.

In our case, our end use was in direct competition with those from whom we copied the data; we were only to collect certain information ... information our competitor had taken pains to try to protect from people like us; and there were many commercial sources for this same information, at reasonable prices, so there was no compelling reason to retrieve the data in this particular manner.

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You can, but should you? Part 1

June 03, 2010 14:23

I recently became involved with a project that eventually gained an unusual element. After several weeks of development, it was revealed that data containing the initial membership of the site was to come from what were essentially competitor websites. The plan was to write a program to "scrape" the other websites' listings for the identities of people we wanted to market to, then dump those identities into our own membership database, and then reach out and encourage those new "members" to visit our site and to "activate" their membership by subscribing to our website's listing services.

This plan had two ethically-challenged elements:

  1. "Opt out" memberships, and
  2. The use of data "scraped" from competitor websites

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Congratulations!

June 03, 2010 10:47

James Butler PortraitWhen you clicked the link that brought you here, you elected to learn more about Ethics, Etiquette and Law online. Kudos to you for that. So few give a rat's ass.

I am an Internetter since there has been an Internet, and I hope to publish daily notes about events, issues, observations and experiences in this brave (relatively) new electronic world. Online human interaction fascinates me, and I hope I bring a unique, valuable perspective to any related discussion.

Thank you for stopping by. As I like to say ...

Onward!

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