Monday, May 21, 2007


Visible / Invisible

The newest issue of Wired Magazine (15.06) has two articles that deal with polar opposites of the same issue - online privacy. One of the articles is called "The Visible Man" (page 74) and talks about Hasan Elahi, who ended up on one of the American government's terrorist watch lists. In order to prove his innocence, he has decided to make his life an open book, posting photos of himself and his whereabouts, along with his debit card receipts, online in a continuous effort to allow the Feds to track his life. He even runs around with a GPS tracking unit in his pocket so they can map his location.

The other article (page 160), called ******* (okay, they are really dots, but I can't get that to show up here - it's supposed to simulate how passwords are seen when entered on a computer), is about Linkin Park's lead singer, Chester Charlie Bennington, and how his email password was stolen by a fan, who used the info in his emails to torment him and his wife. The fan, a woman named Devon Townsend, was caught. She worked for Sandia National Laboratories, "one of the Department of Energy's three nuclear weapons research facilities" (page 164). Scary, huh? Someone a little unhinged working in a nuclear facility. Her reason for messing with Bennington? She had about a half-hour's worth of work to do a day and stalked Bennington out of boredom. The whole incident has understandably scared the pants off Bennington, who has learned not to use his middle name as his password.

The articles taken together prove that navigating privacy issues on the internet is no easy task. On the one hand is a guy who is letting it all hang out; on the other is a guy who started out trusting his fans, but was taken advantage of and now wants some of his invisibility back. What's interesting is that boredom plays a factor in both cases. The woman bored with her job felt compelled to engage in stalking behavior to alleviate that boredom. In The Visible Man's situation, he's attempting to encourage a sense of boredom about his life in order to throw off any remote suspicions that he'll do something wrong.

To be visible online, or not to be visible? It's a conundrum that's going to take a while to shake out.

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