Getting Naked on the Net

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Back in the Wild Wild West days of the Net (remember when it was called the “information superhighway”?), most individual contributors to the web were middle aged white males. Fast forward a decade later, and with the advent of free publishing tools and blogging, just about every demographic is represented online. These would-be authors are posting just about everything you could imagine online. They write about their pets, their family, their hobbies, their fetishes and they post pictures.

Ten years ago, these same folks were afraid to order online from Amazon due to lack of privacy or fear of their credit card information being mysteriously hacked into. Heck, the Kenneth Star subpoena for Monica Lewinsky’s book purchases from Barnes & Noble sent shockwaves through the bulletin boards back in 1998.

Yet people don’t think twice now about posting the most intimate details of their life online these days. What their wishlist on Amazon is, what their music tastes on MySpace are, where they went to school, and on and on. Isn’t it just like stripping naked online? Instead of baring their bodies, posters are baring their habits, desires and personalities for the world.

And they do it voluntarily. God bless the Internet.

Of course, the minute it happens involuntarily, like with AOL’s data Valdez incident—suddenly it’s time to shut down the search engines. So how will forcing operators to delete personal information protect our privacy? Imagine a nude photo, but with all the interesting parts, and the face, cut out. You’re fooling nobody. If you are really seeking to disguise the data, doesn’t it make sense to talk about better ways to anonymize data? Ie, scrambling all the parts of the photo so that the viewer couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

–Ken Leung

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