By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The right direction

In following up on this morning, I found that the privacy concerns have been largely addressed. Now, when you try to create a new account, the very first thing you have to do is enter an e-mail address. Next, you are prompted to enter your name, address and community. I tried to enter just my last name and town, as I did yesterday, and was blocked from going any further.

It still needs some work. It looks as though the system won’t accept “St.” as an abbreviation for “Street,” but will accept “St” (without the period). But this is a huge improvement over yesterday.

Given that folks at the Patrick campaign seem to get it, why do some people continue to defend this breach of privacy? Despite the challenge I issued yesterday, no one has been able to show me a Web site that offers quite the smorgasbord of information that was making available to people. And yet.

The usually sensible Amused but Informed Observer writes to Media Nation wanting to know how Patrick’s Web site is (or, now, was) “any different from the street lists that have been sold in town clerk’s offices since the beginning of time.” Answer: Because you have to walk into the city or town clerk’s office and either buy a directory — or use it there — for just that one community. No easy, technology-enhanced fishing expeditions, in other words.

Amused and several others compare what the Patrick site was doing to what’s available at online registries of deeds. OK, I’ll bite. Here is the site for the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds, serving the heart of Media Nation. It serves 33 cities and towns, which means that you can’t do one-stop shopping for all of the state’s 351 communities, as you could with the Patrick site. And yes, I was able to look up some mortgage information about someone I know. But it’s not very user-friendly, and you have to be very specific about what you’re trying to find.

Finally, Tom Keane was among those who pointed out that was hardly alone in (accidentally) offering a reverse phonebook. Yes, of course. I love reverse phonebooks; here’s the one I generally use. Unlike commercial services, though, presumably had access to unlisted phone numbers, since it was based on state records.

My bottom line is this: Before it was fixed, the Patrick site was violating people’s privacy. And if you could somehow cobble together similar examples from government sites, commercial services and the like, it doesn’t matter, because the Patrick folks were violating your privacy on a partisan political site, paid for with campaign contributions. It was wrong, and I’m glad it’s been fixed.

Of course, if Patrick’s people want anyone other than their sycophants to take the site seriously as a tool of governance, they’re going to have to get that big “Contribute” button off. Not likely, eh?

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1 Comment

  1. Rick in Duxbury

    Haven’t done it in years but the last time I bought a street directory for Deluxebury, I had to produce ID proving I was a town resident. (It is referred to here as the “snoop book”.) No sense helping burglars looking for places to “case”. Try as I might, this knuckle-dragging conservative could find nothing in your post with which to disagree, spot on. If “Amused” can’t differentiate between appropriately public information at deed registries and unlisted phone numbers, (s)he isn’t “informed” after all, just engaging in meaningless rhetoric.

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