Prankster posts sex ad replies online
- Privacy experts say the case is legal but crosses the line morally
NEW YORK - At first glance, the posting looked like any number of
Internet classified ads explicitly seeking sex. But instead of the
27-year-old woman with long brown hair advertised, a male, Seattle-
graphic designer collected the replies and posted them online - with
photos, names and contact information.
Privacy experts say the case treads the line legally but crosses it
"It's a sad commentary overall," said Lauren Weinstein, a veteran
computer scientist and privacy advocate. "It's one of those
where both sides look bad. ... From an ethical standpoint, this isn't
It all began with Jason Fortuny's posting on the online community
Craigslist. According to his Web journal, Fortuny took a real ad and
reposted it so that responses went straight to him. Among the 178
responses were 145 photos of men "in various states of undress." The
replies included e-mail addresses, names and in some cases,
instant-messaging accounts and phone numbers.
Fortuny then posted all the replies on a Web site devoted to parodies
and satires online.
It's by no means the first time information thought private gets
Internet vigilantes have engaged spammers and scam artists and posted
results of their conversations online. Others expose sexual predators
they purposely seek out in chat rooms.
In this case, however, the men who replied to Fortuny's posting did
not appear to be doing anything illegal, so the outing has no social
value other than to prove that someone could ruin lives online, said
Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Oxford and Harvard
Whether Fortuny violated any laws is less clear, he said.
"It's one of those questions that could find its way onto a law
school exam because it is comparatively new territory," Zittrain
Fortuny did not immediately respond to e-mails from The Associated
Press, and calls Monday to his telephone number generated a message
saying the subscriber "is not in service."
Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster told the AP in an e-mail
that Fortuny's actions violated the site's policies. He noted that
the ad in question was removed several times, only to be reposted.
"Publishing private e-mails is something that decent people don't
generally do without very good reason," Buckmaster said.
Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
said Craigslist would be protected under federal law exempting
service providers from liability for what their users do. Fortuny's
liability under Washington state law, he said, rests on whether the
disclosures are of legitimate concern to the public.
"As far as I know, they (the respondents) are not public figures, so
it would be challenging to show that this was something of public
concern," Opsahl said.
Weinstein said the action could potentially make Internet users more
likely to question the legitimacy of Craigslist ads and more
reluctant to participate.
"Once you've lost that trust," he said, "a large part of the utility
of what those services were there for in the first place is lost."