Accidental Privacy Spills: Musings on Privacy, Democracy, and the Internet from James Grimmelmann on LawMeme takes a long look at a fascinating thing I’ve been watching bubble away on MeFi

I’ll let James tell the story.

Well, maybe I’ll introduce it.

What if you emailed a letter to some pals detailing an interesting time you had among some very wealthy, powerful people, who had invited you partly based on your skill as a writer, and partly based on your discrection?

What if someone you mailed it to (let’s be charitable and invoke the proverbial Mom clause here) forwarded the message, and it ended up as the subject of a debate as to the authenticity of the note in a public forum such as MetaFilter?

Oh, it’s plenty interesting.

One thought on “Privacy: case study

  1. Well, that was a good way to burn two or three hours. What a fascinating subject, from 360 degrees. Not only the contents of the original email and what they might mean, but the forty or fifty tangents that shoot off from it. Kindly makes me want to reconsider my, erm, presence in this here on-net world.

    Just taking the original context – a forwarded email. I got burned recently and lost a deal because a supposedly internal email got forwarded outside of the distribution list. Perhaps maliciously, perhaps not. Regardless, the consequences to me were a lost deal, lost honor, and lost cash money. The consequences to the forwarder were nil.

    Back in my mainframe days, (he said as he rocked back under his coverlet), our email had a DO NOT FORWARD tag that made it physically impossible to forward something so tagged. The only way around the system was to retype the original. Which meant that it did not have the imprimature of an original. Which meant that it’s power was gone, for the most part, as soon as the presumptive forwarder did that.

    So, centralized command and control. Not necessarily the best answer. The inverse – individual command and control. Hmmm — that means Laurie should never have written the letter and sent it to her friends.

    I suspect technology could fix this: privacy tags that are honored is easy. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but it’s a start. Maybe encryption, with internal logic bombs that turn the contents into gibberish when forwarded against individual restrictions (I like that idea). A two-level email client: one for trusted comms, one for general bs??? I think the bottom line is the same that it always has been : don’t write anything down that you wouldn’t mind seeing on the front page of the Times-Picayune. If you positively must write it down, you better be sitting on it at all times if you don’t want it getting out.

    Jeesh — I’m sure you weren’t expecting all this. But thanks for a nice mind-expanding trip down Privacy Blvd.

Comments are now closed.