Parents, if you don’t know that kids’ file-sharing (or digital music downloading) activities can be a family privacy risk, here’s a heads-up. We asked Tim Lordan, head of Washington-based GetNetWise.org, about this issue, and he said that – though reports of identity theft and other privacy violations are as yet nonexistent – exposing personal files on the P2P networks is definitely happening. By personal files, we mean emails, tax returns, medical records, and in some cases people’s entire hard drives. Tim pointed to a study done over a year ago that found this kind of file-sharing a widespread mistake, partly because the design of the software (whether it’s the well-known Kazaa or one of the newer, more obscure programs) is confusing. “Many users [especially kids eager to find their favorite songs] do not realize that when they add files to the download folder, all the files in the directory, as well as the directories below it, can be recursively shared,” reported PCWorld in its coverage of the study. “The report also criticizes the way the software searches for files to be shared, noting that it does not give criteria for discovering folders to be shared, such as searching only for media files. Therefore, when it discovers a folder to be shared, ‘it presumes that users haveba perfect knowledge of what kinds of files are contained in those folders and what will be shared,’ the researchers wrote.”
For more on this, see “A tech-literate dad on file-sharing” in the 1/16/04 issue of my newsletter.