So this whole Kurt Greenbaum vs the Internet thing got a bit out of hand in my opinion. Some newspaper guy claiming to be a social-media expert throws a fit and causes a teacher to lose their job. Not the biggest privacy debacle of the year (unless you are the teacher, or his family) but a privacy debacle none the less. A friend of mine asked my opinion so I figured why not post it up here as well.

I see it from two points:

1) The Teacher. He made a bad call. I am very careful what I do with my company provided laptop and what I do at work. I think most people are and should be. I don’t drink beer in the break room or walk around with my shirt off, although I might do both when not at work. The bottom line is that when you are using your employer’s time or resources you need to be aware of that and act appropriately. This guy acted inappropriately while using both the time and resources of his employer.

2) Kurt Greenbaum. He made a worse call. His actions did violate the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s privacy policy and he should be held accountable for that. These two sections are of particular significance:

Our web servers automatically collect limited information about your computer’s connection to the Internet, including your IP address (but not the e-mail address), when you visit our sites. Your IP address does not contain personally identifiable information, nor does it identify you personally. We use this information to deliver our web pages to you upon request, to tailor our sites to the interests of our users, and to measure traffic within our sites.

“We use this information to deliver our web pages to you upon request, to tailor our sites to the interests of our users, and to measure traffic within our sites.” That statement pretty clearly excludes an editor or reporter calling your Boss with your IP as one of the uses of that information. Further down, under the heading What We Do With the Information We Gather About You, it says:

We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information.

We might want to ask to be certain but I am pretty sure that the teacher in question did not specifically approve the release of his IP address to the school at which he worked. Privacy policies are legal documents and must be respected as such. The fact that the paper has not done anything in response to this is ridiculous. If I had a subscription to this paper I would cancel it. If I was an advertiser on their site I would withdraw.I certainly will not read or comment on any of their articles until they punish this violation appropriately.

The simple truth is that there are many better ways to deal with an “inappropriate” comment that do not violate the site’s privacy policy (and would not have cost anyone their job). Mr. Greenbaum and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch absolutely have the right to control what is posted on their blog/website. They have the right to delete the comment, or to block the IP address of the poster. They have the right to not allow anonymous posting or to require that all posts be approved before appearing on the site. They do not have the right to violate the promise that they made to their readers in the form of the site’s privacy policy.

Not to mention that it is simply bad form – why did Kurt Greenbaum even feel the need to track down the poster? What benefit did it (or could it have) serve(d)? Is the paper, society or Kurt better off now that this teacher is jobless? The opposite is probably true on all three counts. Shame on you Kurt Greenbaum and shame on your employer as well.

Published On: December 30th, 2009 / Categories: Privacy / Tags: , , , , , , /

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.