Monday, February 8, 2010

Socially Ambiguous Ethics on Social Media: aka "When is is justifiable to hack someone's Facebook?"

I'm no girl scout. I will never claim to be an angel. Yet when it comes to other people's privacy, I draw the line.

If I'm working with a client and they need to log in to something, I turn my head out of respect for that person. Not that I have any spare hours in the day to break into someone's email, mind you -- but the mere idea of invading a client's privacy is a no-go zone for me. I don't hack, don't want to learn to hack, and find it incredibly offensive for the rare individual to assume that all computer professionals are inherent hackers. I had this sweet little old lady neighbor, many years ago, who I helped on a daily basis, turn to me one day and tell me that her electricity got turned off because of some computer malfunction at the power company... and asked me if I hacked in to her account.

I choked on my tea. She was 84 years old and knew absolutely nothing about computers. She heard the power company say "computer malfunction" and immediately thought of the only person she knew that worked on computers; me. So I tried not to take offense at the question and calmly explained to her the reality of the situation.

Someone I know, in the last year, decided to blithely inform me that he was a spammer and could easily harvest all our emails and eat up our bandwidth, just for fun. That immediately rankled me and I let loose with both barrels -- this is not something I condone under any circumstances. His relative, in an effort to save face, scrambled to claim he was kidding. He did not. In fact, he didn't speak another word. That, to me, spoke volumes.

Now I'm faced with another ethical issue; the issue of social media. Is it ever ethical to hack into a friend or family member's profile, for the purpose of removing something you don't like?

Naturally, I say no. Apparently my moral compass appears to point true north more often that the ones that show up for church every sunday.

Hacking into ANYTHING is a moral minefield. We all know if you hack into a bank or a government institution, you're going to jail for a long time. Yet somehow, hacking into your friend's MySpace page is considered okay? Why, because there's no money involved, no national security to compromise?

I'm on Facebook. I take my privacy seriously. And if someone I know, decides to hack into another's profile, well, that does tremendous damage to my respect for that person. Trust is gone; it doesn't matter if it was my page or someone else's. But the only punishment for such an offense is banishment from Facebook. Big Deal. People that hack will just do it again -- I was proven right in this conclusion recently. They hack you, you change your password. They figure out your password, hack you again. They get banned from Facebook, but they come back under another name and do it again.

Being in this business, you hear all the horror stories -- and six months ago, a friend of mine on MySpace was hacked into by someone she thought was her best friend. This friend deleted things she didn't like (music, quotes, etc) and put things on the page that actually got my friend fired. She thought it was funny.

We're not talking about asking your best friend, roommate, sister, etc to log in for you because you're away from a computer and need to have something put up or taken down. That's not hacking. Hacking is when you go in, without permission, and do something that the owner did not ask you to do.

The next time you log in to that Twitter page, Facebook page, or MySpace.... consider how you would feel if your privacy was violated in such a way. If you knew who did it, and it was someone you trusted like a friend or family member, how would it make you feel? Would you consider the seriousness of what just happened, or would you try to shrug it off and simply change your password?

Think about it. Then tell me what you think the punishment for hacking social media should be.

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