March 30, 2011

"Shagging" on the USC Roof: Privacy Lessons for Participants, Photographer, and Us

Greetings. By now you've probably heard the story of the USC Frat Boy and his obviously willing female companion, who decided to burn a few calories via intimate calisthenics at the edge of a high USC building roof a few days ago.
[Photos - Warning: Only Minimally Censored]

To say that various parties around USC are upset about this situation would be the understatement of the academic year.

The privacy lessons for the involved couple seem obvious enough. The privacy lessons for the photographer -- and the rest of us -- are worth a bit of discussion.

A video interview with the (so far) anonymous photo fan surfaced today -- complete with disguised voice and his head carefully positioned beyond the visible video frame.

This mystery shutterbug -- a student at USC himself -- seems to display the tiniest bit of remorse for how this situation has exploded. He swears that he never intended for the photos to go public, and expresses surprise that somehow, someone managed to copy the photos from what he thought was a limited access Web photo account -- that he apparently only intended to share with a few friends.

Of course, we all know that the instant he enabled access to those photos for anyone other than himself, he lost all effective control over the images. Even someone without download privileges for the photos could have easily captured them directly from nearly any screen on which they were so much as momentarily displayed.

Virtually any time you share anything on the Internet, you are implicitly trusting all other involved parties not to abuse the associated files and data.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't share. Far from it. But it does suggest that especially when dealing with any information that could be considered at all sensitive, it's up to the sharing party to very carefully choose with whom they are sharing. Don't blame the Web service if your "sharing buddies" turn out not to be trustworthy after all.

As for our friend the USC student with the SLR camera, what can we say about his protestations of innocence?

Should we consider his photo posting behavior to represent merely ignorance of the potential ramifications? Perhaps. But since he apparently decided to share the photos in the first place, his "I didn't mean it!" claims are, shall we say, not 100% convincing.

And by the way, the attempts to shield his identity, after his photos served to immediately identify the USC student on the roof, represent yet another privacy lesson.

To wit: Don't depend on lame vocal "disguises" to protect your identity in public interviews. For example, what happens if one throws a bit of processing at the audio of that interview, and approximates a correction for the crude pitch change obfuscation method employed?

Answer: This audio file (MP3 / ~2.3 MBytes).

Remember, as Austin Powers might say, "On the Internet, everybody might see those photos you snagged of the couple who shagged. Yeah, yeah, baby!"

Who ever said that privacy issues are boring?


Posted by Lauren at March 30, 2011 09:46 PM | Permalink
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