Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A note about pre-texting

Media reports (such as ABC "Good Morning America") have very recently (Sept 2006) presented stories about a questionable practice called "pre-texting." A good writeup is a this link from Federated Financial.

This process takes place when someone tries to get personal information about someone under false pretenses. Probably the obvious example is "phishing" emails on the Internet, sent by spammers. But sometimes people, pretending perhaps to be doing legitimate skip tracing, call and ask for personal information. A "pretexter" is a party for whom personal information is a potential asset.

Sometimes employers have reportedly used this practice, trying to get home phone records of employees whom the employer suspects of leaking trade secrets. Likewise, employers could try to get a hold of personal emails.

There are disturbing media reports that Hewlett-Packard board chairman Patricia Dunn spied on her own directors personal phone records in order to investigate a leak. The details are in a story by David Kaplan, "Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valley: In a business saga, how Pattie Dunn's obsession with trying to root out the source of press reports ended with the covert tracking of directors' phone records," in the September 18, 2006 Newsweek. Here is the MSNBC link (visitors may need a subscription to see this content, especially when archived).

This kind of story is a break for employers from the previous controversies over employer monitoring of associate email and web surfing (and blogging) at work, to a concern over employers making compromising public disclosures at home with their own resoruces, by phone or by the web.

The issue also comes up because there has been so much attention recently to people, especially teenagers, giving out personal information over the internet on personal websites or social networking sites.

There is a bit of a philosophical issue developing. Some web content seems inherently valuable on the literary or informative content that it contains, but sometimes the context, which would include facts about the author of the profile or site, affects how it is perceived or valued by others.

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