The Case for Online Obscurity


The Case for Online Obscurity
April 29, 2010

* Woodrow Hartzog 
* Frederic D. Stutzman 


    On the Internet, obscure information
    has a minimal risk of being discovered or understood
    by unintended recipients. Empirical research
    demonstrates that Internet users rely on obscurity
    perhaps more than anything else to protect their
    privacy. Yet, online obscurity has been largely
    ignored by courts and lawmakers. In this article, we
    argue that obscurity is a critical component of online
    privacy, but it has not been embraced by courts and
    lawmakers because it has never been adequately defined
    or conceptualized. This lack of definition has
    resulted in the concept of online obscurity being too
    insubstantial to serve as a helpful guide in privacy
    disputes. In its place, courts and lawmakers have
    generally found that the unfettered ability of any
    hypothetical individual to find and access information
    on the Internet renders that information public, or
    ineligible for privacy protection. Drawing from
    multiple disciplines, this article develops a focused,
    clear, and workable definition of online obscurity:
    Information is obscure online if it exists in a
    context missing one or more key factors that are
    essential to discovery or comprehension. We have
    identified four of these factors: 1) search
    visibility, 2) unprotected access, 3) identification,
    and 4) clarity. This framework could be applied as an
    analytical tool or as part of an obligation. Obscurity
    could be relied upon as a continuum to help determine
    if information is eligible for privacy protections.
    Obscurity could be used as a protective remedy by
    courts and lawmakers; instead of forcing websites to
    remove sensitive information, a compromise could be
    some form of mandated obscurity. Finally, obscurity
    could serve as part of an agreement. Internet users
    bound to a “duty to maintain obscurity” would be
    allowed to further disclose information, so long as
    they kept the information generally as obscure as they
    received it.

Karl Dubost, a Web opener to hire

Received on Monday, 21 January 2013 08:09:15 UTC