"We now live in a global village...a simultaneous happening... Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously." So said Marshall McLuhan in The Medium Is The Message, years before the Internet elevated his observations to an exponentially higher plane.
Isn't it exciting to have on-demand access to information about everyone and everything? For sure! But what if that information is about you and your family? And what if it is inaccurate, contains too much detail and you can't do much about it? Not cool ('kewl' in Internet slang).
We wonder what remains of our right to privacy and our ability to control the kinds of information the "global village" can access about us.
If this is not a concern to you, fine. If it is, read on.
In a recent browsing session on the Internet, we visited the "Great Neck Online" website (http://www.westegg.com/greatneck/people.cgi). Not only does it offer links to local history, news, travel, business and leisure information, but it also provides an online look-up search of what appeared to be the Great Neck white pages phone directory.
With residential information readily available from phone company information and on commercial CD-rom directory software, the fact that our phone numbers and addresses are on the Web comes as no surprise.
However, in a casual look-up of some neighbors' names on this site, we discovered the double jeopardy of a wrong spouse name, where none appears in the hard-copy directory, and the inclusion of an apartment number, where only the street address is listed in hard-copy. We have since found several other name and apartment number errors, as well.
So, where did the site get this information? The website "FAQ," (Frequently Asked Questions) section says it is from "public sources with close links to the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC's). Entries in the directory should be equivalent to what is found in local Telephone White Page directories." Specifically, the look-up uses "a database of names, telephone numbers and postal addresses from Four11 Corporation...generally updated every quarter."
The FAQ also offers the following: "If it is critically important that an old or previous listing be removed immediately, please use our suppression form to have your listing suppressed."
At our neighbor's request, we submitted the online form to suppress their listing. It was rejected because an e-mail address is required. They don't have one. Our inquiry to the webmaster about this loophole has not yet received a reply.
Upon hearing this story, another friend discovered their daughter's college residence address and phone listed on the Web, an unwelcome surprise to daughter and parents alike.
If you care about personal data accessibility and inaccuracy, then access the appropriate online directory (for other towns, try Yahoo's 'People' white pages search), enter your name (or your child's, etc.) in the appropriate boxes and see what turns up. Then decide if it's OK with you.
For the record, just because we are "all connected," does not mean we must passively accept this newly global exposure of what little is left of our privacy.