Online Extortion: The Ethics Of Unpublishing

What are the ethical limits on the Internet, the land where anything goes? What happens when people invent new schemes for making money and then take them too far?



The Internet is a land of freedom and entrepreneurship. But what happens when people take new monetization schemes too far? What are the ethical limits on the Internet?

Back in February I wrote about the mugshot extortion racket and how mug shot website operators were asking high fees to remove mug shot pages that had been optimized to rank for the subjects’ names. Recently, Google acted to suppress mugshot pages because they used scraped content. While I agree with Google’s action and am glad the problem has been partially solved, there is still work to be done. Bing, for example, has not yet done anything. Its search results remain polluted with mug shot scraper pages.

The mug shot racket is just one instance of a larger problem: paid unpublishing. In a paid unpublishing scam a website operator gets hold of embarrassing information, publicizes it, and then offers to take away the pain if a subject pays the fee. Whether or not this is criminal extortion, I’m quite sure the practice is unethical and should be condemned. Another example of an unpublishing scam would be revenge porn sites such as MyEx.com, which has links titled “Remove my name” that offer to delete records for $499. This is the digital equivalent of blackmail. Many types of information have the potential to embarrass. Unless steps are taken now to confront paid unpublishing, we may increasingly find our secrets or mistakes for sale.

Read the rest of this story on Internet Evolution.

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