Expectations of privacy

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys (and one gigantic football stadium) walked in a bar recently, had some drinks and talked with some fans about former coach Bill Parcells (““isn’t worth a s—”) and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, whom he said he would never draft.  Unbeknown to Jones, a fan captured this exchange on his smart phone and soon the  video found its way to Deadspin, a sports blog.

Jones’ comments seem to be newsworthy, so soon the mainstream media linked to and commented on the video, much to the dismay of some. Many ethical questions to pick from here: publishing off-the-record comments,  erosion of journalistic standards and the ethics of blogging. 

But the larger issue is the expectation of privacy we can claim when we enter a semi-public place like a bar. Should Jones have been more careful and been aware that someone with a smart phone might be recording him? Or are we losing something when people, private or public figures, have to enter a bar under the assumption that whatever they do or say might end up on a Web site the next day? I tend to think the latter, what about you?

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Net Neutrality

Last week, a U.S. Appeals Court decided that the FCC cannot mandate that Internet service providers don’t  discriminate what type of content is made available through their networks. The so called “net neutrality” principle requires that all content be treated equal by ISPs such as Comcast. For example, Comcast also offers phone service, so it may have an incentive to slow down Internet phone applications such as Skype. Net neutrality barred them from engaging in these preactices. All info should be equal once it becomes zeros and ones, according to proponents of net neutrality. But the court disagreed.

What put this court case in motion? You got it, illegal downloading:

Comcast took on the FCC after the agency said the cable giant violated open-Internet guidelines in 2007 by throttling BitTorrent, a popular online peer-to-peer file-sharing service that not coincidently allows users to download pirated movies and television shows.

Some people in class argued that illegal downloading is here to stay, but this might not be the case. If ISPs will be getting involved in curbing certain Internet activities, or cut off Internet services to users uploading and downloading copyrighted material, as is currently the case in France, downloading copyrighted material might become harder.

I don’t doubt for a second that the young, educated,  smart and savvy will find ways to get content for free paid for by the rest of us, so eliminating copyright infringement might indeed be impossible. But making it hard, cumbersome and risky so that more people won’t find it worth their while might not be an impossible goal for copyright holders. A lot will depend on the role ISPs will take.

The success of the French experiment is uncertain, as many media reported that piracy is actually up in France, based on one preliminary study.

“Nobody should play a game, where the only way to win is to rape…”

I saw this report on CNN last week, it deals with Hentai games in which the object is to  rape a girl.  The quote in the title comes from the reporter. Earlier in the clip, somebody makes the claim that if we have no problem with shoot-em-up games we should not have problems with this type of game. Is this a valid analogy? Can one argue against rape games but think that violent shoot-em-up games are fine?

Is the difference perhaps that in shooting games you shoot monsters, soldiers etc. but that these games depicts raping truly innocent victims? Would we have problems with a shooting game in which the object is to walk around a University Campus and shoot as many students and faculty (double points if you shoot an ethics professor) as possible?

Technophobia or legitimate privacy concern?

Google Map’s  Street view is running into some legal trouble in Europe according to this article. European Privacy officials are crying foul because Street View might not comply with Europe’s  stringent privacy laws.  Requirements that they make of Google include that

  • Google blurs faces of people in the images
  • Google only keeps unblurred images for six months
  • Google announces via newspapers, radio and TV (which medium is missing in this list?) when it will go out in the neighborhood to capture images for street view

Is this a case of overzealous privacy officials looking for headlines or is there a legitimate privacy  issue? I do support the European approach to privacy, which is based on the assumption that government needs to oversee how businesses treat personal data (as opposed to the American laissez-faire approach), but I wonder if  there really is a legitimate privacy concern in the case of Google Street View. These pictures are taken on public streets, what is the exact privacy invasion here? If my car is photographed or if I was photographed walking home with a bag of groceries, would my right to privacy be invaded if I ended up on Google Street View?

The ehics of forwarding emails

Imagine that you send an email to a professor about his late policy that ticks him off, perhaps for good reason. The professor writes a scathing email back to you, setting you straight. The professor thinks that the email exchange you two had is instructive and sends your email and his response to the rest of the class, with your name crossed out. Would you be ok with this? This is more or less what happened at the NYU Business School, even though not all the facts seem to be clear.

Regardless, this brings up some interesting questions regarding the ethics of forwarding emails. Did the professor adequately protect the student’s privacy
by  crossing out his name?

Draft Code of Ethics

So far, our collective effort has resulted in a draft code of ethics. Please use the comment section to comment on this code of ethics.
What should be changed, eliminated and/or added?

Draft code of ethics-disclosure- statement of principles Rough Draft

This blog is part of Professor Bastiaan Vanacker’s Digital Media Ethics course taught at the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago Spring 2010. The instructor and the sixteen students are responsible for the content of this blog. Students are required to post one blog entry every two weeks and to read and comment on each others’ comments. Other visitors to this blog are welcome and encouraged to comment on the various blog postings.
Students are graded for their blog contributions. Grading criteria are communicated to the students but refer to the frequency, relevance, and structure of blog postings, not to their specific content, which is entirely up to the students and is not a representative of the position and opinions of Loyola University. Each contributor is responsible for his or her content only.
Students were given the liberty to use an alias or pseudonym when writing or commenting. Even though we recognize that accountability is an important value, some students voiced concern about being forced to publicly post something under their own name on the Internet as a condition to receive a good grade in this class. In an educational context this is a valid concern. However, all contributors are members of this class and all contributors commit to maintain high ethical standards when contributing to this blog. Any comments or concerns can be left in the comments section or emailed directly to the instructor at: bvanackerATluc.edu

When a video or picture could reasonably be considered to be offensive to some, we will provide a disclaimer when linking to the offensive content.

We will follow copyright laws and always give credit to pictures taken from elsewhere.

We will not re-use photos on which we don’t own the copyright unless we have the permission to do so.

We will use pictures and videos to illustrate, not to shame or ridicule.

We will to the best of our ability try to assess the reliability of information before posting it or providing links to it.

If we feel certain content may not be appropriate for publication we will discuss its publication with the other authors of this blog before posting it. If we decide to indeed publish the content we will explain our rationale to our readers.

Blog posts are not edited by the instructor or anyone else before they are posted. If we make a mistake, we will fix it. If the fix merely consists of editing for grammar and style or to clarify a point, the editing will not be visible to the readers. If the correction is because a factual error was made by the author, the editing will be done in a way that makes it clear that the original text has been edited. (strike out)

We will cite our sources.

We will clearly distinguish fact from opinion in our writing.

We will carefully proofread.

We will be each others’ editors.

We will keep our blog up to date.

Online wedding registry

So I am getting married this summer. The real deal, not in Second Life or in some other virtual world, but in the real world with -last time I checked- a real person. As we all know, one of the reasons for getting married is to get mountains of stuff, and so we started a wedding registry at a couple of places. (Have you seen those obnoxious people overcome by greed and materialism walking around with a laser gun at Crate and Barrel? That might have been us).

The other day I googled my name -admit it, you do it as well- and saw that our Macy’s wedding registry (UPDATE: link may no longer work – see bottom of this page) came up as a search result through Google. Actually it was one of the first entries. I don’t think that there are big secrets on this very incomplete registry (apparently my fiancee plans on baking A LOT), but it does raise some interesting questions.

I had expected that my wedding registry would have been somewhat of a semi-private space to which we could direct the people whom we wanted to see it. People who know that we have a wedding registry at Macy’s could go to the Macy’s site and look it up, but I am surprised that a potential employer, bored colleague, curious student or vindictive ex who googles my name is taken to my wedding registry. And if this is an annoyance one has to put up with as a trade off for the convenience of having an online registry, should this be communicated more clearly to the consumer?

A wedding registry is somewhat personal and why I don’t have huge problems with people seeing it (I guess that’s the whole point), I can imagine situations where people would have issues with this and would want more control over who gets to see it. I believe privacy boils down to the right to have control over what information about yourself gets communicated to whom.

I suspect, though I am not sure, that Macy’s does not mind this situation too much as it increases traffic to their Web site. (Maybe you now all of a sudden realize you need a cookie baking sheet) We actually wrote to Macy’s about this and I am curious what their reaction will be.

So what do you think – am I having an unrealistic expectation of privacy, or should Macy’s better protect their customers’ privacy and exclude these pages from Google searches?

UPDATE 02-17: We emailed Macy’s about this and got this reply (pasted below), which does not really address the google issue but should take care of it nevertheless. Apparently Macy’s also passed on our information to advertisers. Interesting.

Thank you for your interest in Macy’s Wedding & Gift Registry.

Per your request. I have marked your registry as private. This means
that only guest who have your registry number may view your registry.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience you may have
experienced due to the receipt of advertisements. I am truly sorry this
created a concern for you. I have notified our Advertising Department of
your request; however, as mailing lists are prepared in advance, it can
take some time for this process to be completed.