Woodrow Hartzog's blog

What's The Right Balance For Protecting Privacy And Promoting Accountability On The Internet?

According to NPR, 300 plus teenagers broke into former NFL player Brian Holloway’s vacation home, causing massive damage and showcasing their exploits on social media. In response, Holloway created a website,helpmesave300.com, that collects the alleged culprits’ social media posts. He claims this repository has enabled teens to be identified, and that the growing list of names is “being turned over to the sheriffs (sic) department to assist them to verify and identify the facts.” Read more about What's The Right Balance For Protecting Privacy And Promoting Accountability On The Internet?

Without My Consent is Seeking Research Participants to Better Understand Online Harassment

Online stalking, harassment, and invasions of privacy can be incredibly destructive. Yet very little empirical data exisits regarding these incidents. This paucity of data hinders educational, support, research and policy efforts. Without My Consent, a non-profit organization seeking to combat online invasions of privacy, is conducting research to better understand the experiences of online harassment. If you are 18 or older and have experienced harassment on the Internet, please consider taking their survey. Read more about Without My Consent is Seeking Research Participants to Better Understand Online Harassment

The Problems and Promise with Terms of Use as the Chaperone of the Social Web

The New Republic recently published a piece by Jeffrey Rosen titled “The Delete Squad: Google, Twitter, Facebook, and the New Global Battle Over the Future of Free Speech.” In it, Rosen provides an interesting account of how the content policies of many major websites were developed and how influential those policies are for online expression. Read more about The Problems and Promise with Terms of Use as the Chaperone of the Social Web

Chain-Link Confidentiality

I have just uploaded a new essay about online privacy to SSRN that will appear in Volume 46 of the Georgia Law Review. The essay, titled "Chain-Link Confidentiality," asserts that personal information that is shared online can be better protected if we require our confidants to make sure that their confidants are watching out for us. This strategy could help us retain control over our personal information as it moves downstream. Your comments are warmly welcome. Read more about Chain-Link Confidentiality

Three Cheers for Obscurity, an Unspoken Beneficiary of United States v. Jones

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in United States v. Jones, in which the Justices held that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constituted a Fourth Amendment search. The decision was surprisingly unanimous on this point, though concurring opinions by Justices Sotomayor and Alito potentially amplify the significance of the opinion by proposing alternate approaches to the larger problem of ubiquitous surveillance technologies and privacy in public. Given the majority opinion's narrow focus on the attachment of the device to the car, the larger issue of privacy in public remains unsettled.

Others have done an exemplary job of commenting on the decision. The dominant themes arising from the decision and analysis of the decision seem to be the (re?)injection of the concept of trespass into Fourth Amendment doctrine, signs of potential withering of the third party doctrine, and recognition that Fourth Amendment and privacy doctrine will soon enough be useless if they do not adequately protect against ever-evolving surveillance methods and technologies.

I'd like to focus on an aspect of the decision that has not shown up much in the analysis of the case, likely because it was never explicitly mentioned in the text. Although the word obscurity does not appear anywhere in United States v. Jones, I think the decision, particularly Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion, supports the idea that the obscurity of our personal information is worth protecting. Read more about Three Cheers for Obscurity, an Unspoken Beneficiary of United States v. Jones

Resisting Terms of Use, Or: The Revolution Will Not Be Boilerplate

Technology users are becoming frustrated over privacy-invasive terms of use agreements. In the past, this frustration was difficult to channel effectively enough to regularly change the terms. However, that futility is slowly abating. Users are increasingly attempting to negotiate the terms of their agreement through technology or a protracted exchange of public criticism and response. I would like to explain why a few recent developments leave me optimistic that a combination of resistance and innovation can offset some of the inequities in the standard-form contracts formed between users and websites. Read more about Resisting Terms of Use, Or: The Revolution Will Not Be Boilerplate

CIS on Surprisingly Free

Ryan Calo and I both recently recorded podcasts for the show Surprisingly Free, which is an excellent weekly podcast for anyone interested in law and technology. Ryan discusses the imminent rise of personal robots and I discuss the ubiquity of website terms of use.

For those who don't know it, Surprisingly Free has hosted many excellent guests, so I recommend exploring the website. If you're interested in law and technology podcasts, I also highly recommend CIS's own Hearsay Culture. Read more about CIS on Surprisingly Free

The Promise of Privacy Controls

Privacy settings and other technological controls used to protect privacy have been justifiably criticized a bit lately. Danielle Citron recently blogged at Concurring Opinions about an important new study conducted by Columbia’s Michelle Madejski, Maritza Johnson and Steve Bellovin that found that Facebook’s default privacy settings fail to capture real-world expectations. The United Kingdom Government has recently indicated that browser settings alone cannot be used by Web users to give consent to being tracked online under a new EU law. The Government's rationale for this decision was that these browser settings were not flexible enough to reflect a user's true privacy preferences. The general consensus seems to be that most privacy settings simply aren't that good at protecting the actual information we consider private in a given context. I think some skepticism regarding privacy controls is warranted, particularly in light of the current technology. However, I'd like to show some support for privacy controls, or, rather, the promise of privacy controls. My hope is that that courts and lawmakers do not completely sour on recognizing privacy controls as a legitimate way to protect an Internet user's privacy.
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Website Design as Contract

Few website users actually read or rely upon terms of use or privacy policies. Yet users regularly take advantage of and rely upon website design features like privacy settings. Could these designs be part of the contract between websites and users? A draft of my new article argues just that by developing a theory of website design as contract. This article is coming out in Volume 60 of the American University Law Review later this year. In sum, I argue that in an age where website interactivity is the hallmark for many sites, courts must re-think what constitutes an online agreement. This is particularly true with respect to user privacy. Read more about Website Design as Contract

The Problems with Requesting Access to Online Communities

In the past few weeks a few potential employers and schools were reported to have asked for access to the Facebook profile of an applicant or student. These reports are starting to feel like a trend. I think these requests are problematic not just for the Facebook user, but also the employer or administrator asking for access. In short, anyone asking for access to Facebook profiles and/or login credentials is asking users to betray the trust of their network and subjecting all parties involved to the potential deactivation of their Facebook account.

Read more about The Problems with Requesting Access to Online Communities

Lovely-Faces and the Benefit of Scraping Restrictions

Website scraping, which is the bulk extraction of website information by software, is becoming an increasingly visible activity. The Lovely-Faces controversy shows how scraped information can disrupt a sense of privacy when re-published in a different context. The Lovely-Faces website, deemed “a social experiment” by its creators, re-contextualizes names, locations, and photos scraped from publicly accessible Facebook pages in a mock dating website. Read more about Lovely-Faces and the Benefit of Scraping Restrictions

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