Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ashley-Madison leak, divorce lawyers, and purported "right to be forgotten" can create a perfect storm

I’ve talked about “the right to be forgotten”, which sounds more like a privilege to me, in several posts recently.  But the news today about the Ashley-Madison hack adds more dimension to it, suddenly. (Why does the character “Ashkey Wilkes” from “Gone with the Wind” come to mind?)

I covered some of the news by updating my post on the Internet Safety blog July 20, 2015 already.
Wired, for openers, says we just shouldn’t play along (link ).   Here’s a typical story from Vox-affiliate, The Verge, link
But there is a risk to “online reputation”, partly because some names on the site may have been erroneous or originally entered maliciously.  For many people, the “fear” will be overblown, but online reputation companies are sure to jump on it.

To put this in perspective, remember it’s easy to look up aggregate information on almost anyone from subscription data bank companies that cull information off public records and maybe credit reports. It’s easy to look up any home address online and find out if the owner has paid property taxes.  I don’t do this, because I really don’t want to know.  Maybe if I were to hire someone, or get into a “real” relationship, I would have to, but this begins to sound like soap opera (“Days of our Lives” particularly, and thankfully, I have no reason to be jealous of anyone).

One problem for search engine companies comes up if in fact the “hackers” really do spill a lot of “bad information” (e.g. “The Sum of All Fears”) on a lot of people, who could include those maliciously or accidentally entered and not actually involved in adultery. If the information is put on normal websites or blogs (like on Blogger or Wordress) there won’t be any practical way to know if the information came from the illegal or criminal hack.  For some people, there won’t be any way to litigate, although I imagine defamation lawyers are playing glee with this now.  Divorces lawyers look forward to feasting (particularly in states with “alienation of affection” laws like North Carolina).  It could add fuel to the idea that “the right to forgotten” needs to apply in the US and give France some leverage in trying to push this on us (although I personally disagree).

Ordinary citizens are finding that the Internet provides new ways for potential “enemies” or “adversaries” to hold them accountable for “what they didn’t earn”, in ways outside the reach of the normal legal system.  Our whole idea of personal accountability and morality broadens out.  We’re finding out what “karma” really means.

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