May 192016
 May 19, 2016  Breaches, Featured News, Misc, Online

Bravo to now-tenured law prof Woodrow Hartzog for this great piece on Slate. It begins:

Are you an OkCupid user? Would you consider the data on your profile public—fair game for anyone to download and share with the rest of the world?

That’s the argument made by a group of Danish researchers who released a data seton nearly 70,000 users of the popular dating website. The researchers used an automated tool called a “scraper” that captures parts of a webpage—a possible violation of the website’s terms of use. These users had answered questions on intimate topics like drug use and sexual preferences. The researchers took no steps to deidentify the data set when they released it, despite it being possible to reidentify many of the profiles. When the researchers were called out about this lapse on Twitter, one of them shrugged it off with the flip statement “Data is already public.”

I hear arguments like this all the time. Websites that post mug shot photos to shamepeople say they’re just using public records. Harassers who take “upskirt” photos of women say they are blameless because their activities occurred “in public.” Police say they are free to use powerful technologies to surveil anyone for as long as they like as long as they are “in public.”

It’s time to abandon the misguided notion that public information is fair game.

This justification is fundamentally wrong.

Read more on Slate.

  One Response to “There Is No Such Thing as “Public” Data”

  1. It is A MAJOR VIOLATION OF PERSONAL PRIVACY (AND not just a scraping but a minor breach). It’s repulsive, immoral and inhumane. Things need to be done to file complaints against the perpetrators and those who are accountable due to negligence.

    Worst part is, Emil the researcher shows no remorse and thinks its perfectly fine and he did nothing wrong. His tweets on Twitter clearly demonstrate no accountability.

    I am just so disgusted. ..sorry 4 my rant. This story makes me cringe and vomit.

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