Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Practical Ethics and the Internet

In a recent post about Facebook, I linked to RFC 1087: Ethics and the Internet. Although my point was clear that people were leaving Facebook on ethical grounds, I didn't go into more detail about RFC 1087.

Heres what RFC 1087 says.
The IAB strongly endorses the view of the Division Advisory Panel of the National Science Foundation Division of Network, Communications Research and Infrastructure which, in paraphrase, characterized as unethical and unacceptable any activity which purposely: ...(e) compromises the privacy of users.
EFF explained how Facebook compromised the privacy of its users.
Today, Facebook removed its users' ability to control who can see their own interests and personal information. Certain parts of users' profiles, "including your current city, hometown, education and work, and likes and interests" will now be transformed into "connections," meaning that they will be shared publicly. If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them.
So why should we care about the ethics of privacy? Why did the Internet Activities Board think this is important?

If you agree with Zuckerberg, privacy doesn't matter. If he's right, then we shouldn't mind if uninvited strangers read our email, right? For some people, Facebook's bait and switch may have allowed that.

A common option when you lose the password to your web email service is to either have a password reset link emailed to you or you can answer a security question that you have previously answered. For instance, one popular web email service presents "what was your favorite childhood book?" as a choice. Maybe you really loved "Winnie the Pooh." If you are using this particular web email service and chose that question and answer and you also listed the book in your Facebook interests, then it would be very easy for a stranger to gain access to your email (when he could not previously). You don't have anything in your email you would like to keep secret, right?

Update 7/15: Eben Moglen

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