The Issue of Privacy in the World of Web 2.0


I recently ran across a photograph on Flickr that has caused quite a stir. After doing a little research I learned that the story was covered in the NYTimes a few months ago. The controversy surrounds Virgin Mobile’s use of a photograph of a 15-year-old girl, Alison Chang, in one of their ad campaigns. Virgin Mobile obtained the photograph of the Ms. Chang from a publicly shared Flickr account. While never having received explicit permission from Ms. Chang, the photograph itself was licensed by the photographer/creator to be used “by anyone in anyway, including commercial purposes,” as long as he was credited. While Flickr was originally developed as a quick and easy way for family and friends to share photographs, the site has recently become popular for other, less intimate, purposes. As the Times points out,

The site [has] become a global clearinghouse for images; at last count, it had more than a billion of them. With its extensive cataloging, the site allows users to search through strangers’ digital photo albums for topics, faces or locations that interest them. That includes, apparently, Australian ad executives holding a casting call for exuberant young Americans.

At the center of the debate is the question, “What privacy rights and protections are individuals depicted in publicly shared photographs entitled to?” While the photograph was in the public domain and was licensed by its creator for “any purposes,” the Times is quick to point out that nobody has the authority to give away Ms. Chang’s rights.

The Web 2.0 revolution is based on the principle of sharing. The survival of social media sites like Flickr and YouTube depend on their user’s willingness to share their creations with the world. Yet at the same time, while it’s clearly unjust to allow corporations or individuals to profit without the explicit consent of the individuals depicted in these creations. So where should the line between publicly shared social media content and individual privacy rights be drawn? You tell me.

[editors note: This article also adds some good information to the issue and involves the always important Creative Commons License idea.

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