Sex and Privacy on the Internet

by on September 9, 2006

Via Patri Friedman, there’s a controversy brewing over the boundaries of online privacy. Ryan Singel at the Wired blog has a good summary:

A guy who identifies himself as Jason Fortuny, a 30 year old network administrator, posted a graphic ad on Seattle’s Craigslist, pretending to be a woman wanting some BDSM sex.

Not surprisingly, many men responded, many with photos and more than a few with pics of their genitals.

Some used their work accounts, provided their real names and gave out their cellphone numbers. One looks to be a contractor for Microsoft, while another used a .mil address to reply.

Fortuny, whose MySpace profile says he likes to “push people’s buttons” then posted all the photos and correspondence on what may be the web’s lamest wiki, Encyclopedia Dramatica.

Judging from the comments in his LiveJournal page, Fortuny seems not to realize or pretends not to realize that his prank may cost people their jobs and possibly, their marriages (if you really want to see the pics and original ad, click on the first link in that post).

He also doesn’t seem to get that he’s opened himself up to huge civil lawsuits under Washington law.

These aren’t prominent people, there weren’t breaking the law and there’s no news value in posting their identifying information. There’d hardly be any value in posting the stuff even with the information removed and faces blurred on the photos, but there might be some–if only as a warning to naive people.

And I hope Fortuny does get sued.

Me too. Nobody comes off looking very good in this incident, but I think Fortuny is ultimately the villain here. Email is widely considered to be a private medium. If I send a friend an email asking for personal advice, I would be shocked if he re-posted it to his blog. The fact that these guys emailed personal information to a stranger makes them morons, but it doesn’t change the principle involved.

Yes, some of these guys are cheating on their wives. Yes, that’s bad, and there’s an argument their wives should know about it. But some of the guys were single, and at least one guy claims he was looking for sexual partner’s with his wife’s knowledge and consent. Whatever one thinks of such “open” relationships, peoples’ consensual sex lives are certainly not the business of random strangers on the Internet. Even for those men who were cheating on their wives, a more appropriate strategy would be to attempt to privately contact the wives and let them know about their husbands’ behaviors.

I hope it goes without saying that all the guys who sent personally identifiably information and naked pictures of themselves to complete strangers are idiots. This goes far beyond trolling for sex on the Internet: it’s a good rule of thumb that you should never send anything via email to someone you don’t know well that you wouldn’t want to be public knowledge. Even for people you do know well, you should keep in mind that leaks, betrayals, and accidental forwards do happen. It’s probably a good rule of thumb to never send anything via email to anyone that could, if publicly disclosed, cost you your job or your marriage.

But that doesn’t in any sense justify Fortuny’s vindictive behavior. Singel is right: Fortuny is “a narcissistic sociopath who doesn’t yet realize he needs a good lawyer.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: