R. Fink | With Web 2.0, the price of fame is at a steep discount

The Packet Rat | Commentary: Commentary: Your privacy could be shattered as quickly as it takes for an image to upload

Packet Rat

Michael Bechetti

If you ever needed a reason to be paranoid about photo-sharing sites ' and the Rat is always paranoid ' a certain case recently in the news should do the trick.

A Dallas family is suing Virgin Mobile, the cellular phone provider, for using their daughter's image from a church youth group leader's Flickr account for a billboard in Australia.

'Didn't Scott McNealy say privacy was dead?' the Rat sighed as he read the story over coffee in the network command bunker, remembering comments the Sun chairman had made in Washington a few years ago. 'It's not just dead ' it's barbecued.'

The Dallas girl's likeness, procured from a photo of her acting like a goofy teenager at a charity car wash, is now plastered ' in a modified version ' across Australia, along with the words, 'Dump your pen friend' and 'free text virgin to virgin.'

The signs were spotted by another Flickr user who recognized the photo and posted a picture of it with congratulations to the original photographer.

The mobile carrier's advertising company had indeed plucked the photo from Flickr, where the photographer had placed it online under 'Creative Commons' terms, which allow reuse with attribution.

Of course, Creative Commons didn't cover how the girl's family felt about the picture being used for anything other than the photographer's Flickr account ' particularly because he didn't have a release. Now, the family is suing, based on the violation of privacy.

Of course, the Rat is familiar with the rapidly dropping towel of privacy, after having dealt with certain individuals with hyperactive cell phone camera habits. But with the massively searchable and rapidly retrievable nature of photos on sites like Flickr, your privacy could be shattered as quickly as it takes for an image to upload, if it's got the right tag on it.

And that's exactly the reason why the Defense Department blocks access to Flickr from its networks. Type 'Baghdad' in the search bar of Flickr, and you'll get the picture ' literally.

The same is true of YouTube ' camera video uploaded by e-mail puts shaky pictures of nearly everything anyone could record in 30-second chunks.

And that's the kind of power that many are hoping to take advantage of as Web 2.0 gets dressed up for the office, and called 'Office 2.0' or 'Enterprise 2.0' ' the combination of social bookmarking of content, Web-based e-mail and other applications powered by rich Web front-end technology such as Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language.

'They've got to get a better buzzword,' the wirebiter whined. But he's been using whatever it's called for a while for Webmail and other application support tasks.
'If I post a picture with the word 'naked',' the cyberrodent said with a smirk to his agency security chief, 'it'll be scraped off RSS feeds to 500 Web sites in a minute. Maybe we should consider that approach for getting our public-service videos out there and for distribution of emergency notices.'

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