Saturday, December 13, 2008

Privacy, Security, and a Web Site Gone Horribly Wrong -- Then Right

Adam Jackson had a Web site,, which he ran out of his apartment in San Francisco. He positioned two cameras facing Taylor Street, and a microphone strategically placed to pick up the street noises. A message board on the site invited visitors to discuss what they were seeing. A voyeuristic, yet non-fetish, concept.

Soon, local residents and neighborhood watch groups realized that they could view the site and, if they saw a crime being committed they could call the police immediately. An unintended social good on Adam's part.

Or as least so he thought. For Adam's Web site was not without its critics, as C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

"I assumed the community would be against it," Jackson said Friday. "But the community embraced it."

The guys who didn't like it are members of a graffiti group. When they found the site, they made a banner advertising their Web site and held it up in front of the camera. Jackson decided the banner was meant to encourage graffiti and deleted it. The group took that as an affront.

"Their argument was free speech," Jackson said. "My feeling was it's my camera. I can do what I want."

And then, the trouble began. It wasn't other people's privacy that was abridged so much as it was Adam's privacy, and then his security. You see, Adam was a little too forthcoming with his private information -- not just his email address, but also his personal address and his phone number.

Jackson began to get e-mailed threats. Someone posted photos of Jackson and his girlfriend on their own Web site. Somebody called his employer to say Jackson was a pedophile.

"We just wanted you to know that we know we are being watched," said one message, "and we don't like it."

When Jackson called the police about some letters being spray-painted on the street, the harassment intensified. He was a snitch. Anonymous thugs threw rocks at his window at night, and he was followed to work by a group of guys in hooded sweatshirts.

To settle with his tormentors, and to make the harassment stop, Adam agreed to post a confession on this Web site, written by his personal bullies, attesting to "... what a racist and ignorant human being that I am ..." He made arrangements to move out of the neighborhood. The thugs had won.

But then, there came a curious twist of fate. The San Francisco Police decided to have Adam's back. Instead of taking down his Web site, he announced it would remain up, but under new management. The cameras would remain, but at new undisclosed locations. Then a few other people, in other neighborhoods, copied Adam's model. There was talk of linking the sites through an aggregator, perhaps

Well done, Adam.

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