Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Privacy? Be Prepared for a Surprise

The rush to connect everyone online sometimes gets out of hand.

Sunday, I corrected an erroneous comment made on an NYTimes.com story about the ROTC on elite college campuses. I read every comment, thought them fascinating but was disappointed in one referring to Kent State. Since I knew, ever so slightly, one of the four killed that day, I corrected the suggestion that he had been among the protesters; he was, in fact, an ROTC cadet just passing by when he was shot in the back from more than 100 yards away. In the comment, I used the pseudonym just to put some distance between myself and some of the more militarized people who like to pounce on those who oppose their views.

Monday, suddenly, my ROTC comment showed up on my Facebook page. I didn't put it there.

For more than six months, I have been trying and completely failing to get unsubscribed from Timespeople, a feature of the NY Times that allows people to share what they link to, their comments, etc. I hated the feature as soon as I understood how it was going to work--if I want people to know what I'm doing, I will tell them. I will send them a link, e-mail them, whatever. I do not want a computer algorithm automatically telling the rest of the world every move I make.

But that is, in fact, what happened. Not only does the Times system have information about what I do on the site, it also has information about my Facebook, Twitter and other accounts, apparently because I use the same email to sign in to many of them.

When I realized that the comment had popped up on Facebook, and couldn't figure out how that happened, I called the Times, which noted that multiple other social sites where I use the same email are listed on that Timespeople account that I've been trying to shut down. So not only does the Times continue to compile and redistribute my information on its own site, it now sends it out elsewhere.

It is unclear how long this has been going on--I've never seen it happen before--but it is simply unacceptable. I do not post rants, threats, explicit remarks, anything, that would be a serious problem but then that is not the point.

A violation of privacy is a serious matter and that is exactly what has happened here.

The Times customer service line is trying to straighten this out, again. We shall see.

Disclosure: I worked as a copy editor at The Times for about a year back in the 1990s, and still have pals there. This is nothing personal.

No comments:

Lijit Ad Tag