The End of Geoprivacy

Ever have the feeling that someone is spying on you?

Today, it’s more likely that you are broadcasting enough information thatanyone can spy on you.

In the most recent issue of Wired magazine, freelance writer Mathew Honan recounts his “I am here”adventures of a “3-week experiment of living la vida local.” Using all the new technology (software and hardware) especially iPhone apps, he demonstrates how easy it is to be constantly monitoring your environment electronically as well as for everybody to know where you are. For example, with the program WhoseHere, you can send your latitude and longitude location and instantly get responses from other people in the area. The responses, needless to say, range from “I’m looking for sex” to “Really great coffee shop.”

Other interesting revelations: “Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map.” In other words, people will know exactly where you were when you took the picture. Interestingly, Honan concludes the article by describing how he almost got into a car accident because he was so busy getting “better location awareness” through his various geo gadgets that he didn’t notice a car (a Prius, of course!) stopping short in front of him. He concludes that technology cannot replace “look[ing] around the old-fashioned way” and keeping a “sense of place.”

One such app, Google Latitude, is already occasioning controversy.

Let’s call this the question of geoprivacy. [Read more…]

Darryl (From “The Office”): Everyone is a Paparazzo?

On this site and in my classes, we have talked a lot about the changes inpolitics and other parts of life and labor that easy Internet access, online social-interactive media, and the cell phone (with its picture, sound and video capture and upload capabilities) have occasioned. In politics, we know that the personal appearance is different because a politician never knows who in the audience might get them on video or record them in some other way and YouTube a quote or a rant or just a funny picture. Celebrities of other kinds–like athletes and entertainers–have always faced the dilemma of being “outed” while in private by paparazzi. Now in the same way that everyone is a potential journalist, everyone is also a potential paparazzo. What are the privacy rights of individuals anywhere–OUR GEOPRIVACY? Should ordinary fans or witnesses know or care? At a minimum, it is pretty clear that if a celebrity like, say, a star of a TV show, appears in a public venue, the public has a perfect right to and shouldn’t feel any ethical qualms about capturing him/her for wider viewing.

And let’s face it, celebrities thrive on celebrity and are using the new tech (like Twitter) to show off their own backstage lives (or parts of them).

Here is a case study: Below is the narrative description by one of my students, who encountered “Darryl” (actor Craig Robinson) from NBC’s The Office. The ethical nuance here is that Mr. Robinson was not quietly having a drink in a corner but performing for the crowd, so there is even less of a problem with deciding to “YouTube” him.


At the end of December break I went to a bar called Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (Dallas, TX). A dueling piano bar is when two pianists sit at pianos that face each other as they play song requests from the audience. My friends and I were about to leave when we heard commotion and people running in our direction. I looked up from my friends and saw Darryl from The Office on stage. He showed up out of nowhere and began singing on one of the pianos. Everybody began taking pictures and recording him on their cameras and cell phones. It was really exciting to see somebody famous right before my eyes. My friend was taking pictures on her blackberry, and sent me an email instantly with one of the pictures she had taken. Darryl then played the opening song from The Office and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

[Read more…]

A-Rod Ethics

Guest posted by Chris Nelson (KU student) for my class “Ethics & Media”:

The idea of this “steroid era” really started back in 1998 when Mark McGwireand Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris‘ home run record of 61 in a single season, a record that was established in 1961. Everyone suspected that the sluggers, especially McGwire, were on something, but no one cared. The two men eventually chased down the record and continued to demolish it when McGwire hit number 70 on the last day of the season (Sosa ended with 66). Then along came Barry Bonds and his revamped body. In the early to mid ’90s, Bonds was a lean base stealer who could also hit for power. After the 1998 season, it seemed that Bonds was jealous of the homer hype. This is when most suspect he started using. Bonds would end up breaking McGwire’s record in 2001 with a total of 73 home runs. I know that records are made to be broken, but how does a near 40-year-old record get broken twice in the span of 3 years?

In 2003, Major League Baseball (MLB) administered an “anonymous” test of all players in order to get a feel for how big a problem steroids really was. Nearly 14% (104 players) of the tests came back positive. The team owners and the players’ union both agreed to keep the names on the list confidential, and a federal court ordered the list sealed. However, when the list was seized by federal investigators, news leaked about Alex Rodriguezbeing one of the positive tests.

“A-Rod” is a 3-time MVP and a perennial All-Star. Oh, and he makes more than $25 million a year. A-Rod has come clean to the public and admitted he was using “something” for three years, 2001-03, but he didn’t really know what he was taking. He said he began using when he felt pressure from his newly signed 10-year, $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Thatstatement begs the question, if he was under enough pressure in Dallas to take steroids, what did he feel when he got traded to the New York Yankees at the end of the 2003 season?

It’s hard to believe that he would stop taking these substances right before he stepped on the extremely bright stage that is the Bronx.

  • Does his admission do anything for you as a baseball fan or even a regular citizen?
  • Is the “pressure” excuse good enough for you, and why do you think it was good enough for him to start taking these substances?
  • Do you think his teammates look differently at him? In the end they are all competing for that next contract and that next payday; can they respect him after he gave himself an unfair advantage over the rest?


Originally posted February 23, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

Original Comments Here

Media Ethics: The Trials of Ted Haggard

In class, I screened the HBO Documentary, The Trials of Ted Haggard, about the “fallen” evangelist. The documentary raises some major issues about media ethics.

1. To what extent should someone making a documentary explain the context of an event? For example, we really don’t learn much about the pastor’s settlement with his church.

2. When a documentary focusses on one person, should we not also learn about other key characters? There is no in-depth interview with the man who had relations with the pastor. He just states his position and that’s that.

3. Does the documentary filmmaker need to tell us “what side” she is on: is she making the pastor look bad, or just letting him talk without a point of view?

Update on April 21, 2009

More on Pastor Ted’s troubles.

Originally posted April 14, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

Perlmutter on Anonymous & Pseudonymous Posting Online

I am quoted in Shaun Hittle’s Lawrence Journal-World article “Plenty of opinions, few names: Merits of anonymity debated in onlineworld.” July 23, 2009.

Originally posted July 23, 2009 at PolicyByBlog