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Net prankster lays bare 'Casual Encounters'

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NSFW A Seattle programmer who posed as a women looking for casual sex and published the email addresses, photographs and telephone numbers of the men who responded has earned himself instant notoriety.

Jason Fortuny described the exercise as "The Craigslist Experiment", after posting to the thriving part of the commercial bulletin board called "Casual Encounters" - meeting strangers for sex in two US cities. Fortuny said he designed the exercise as a prank. The photographs made the respondents instantly recognizable, while a small number used their work email addresses, including a staffer at Philips and a Microsoft contractor.

Vilification was swift - but it far from the unanimous view.

Wired reporter Ryan Singel found the tallest horse in the world from which to pontificate.

"No journalist would ever pull a stunt like this," he claimed, "because exposing the private lives of private persons, in absence of any justifiable public interest, is both unethical and a clear violation of the law."

"The point of the whole 'prank' was to shame and humiliate other people and to let Fortuny and his LiveJournal hangers-on feel intellectually and morally superior - e.g. the victims are 'perverts' who aren't smart enough to know how use the internet anonymously."

Well, yes. But how smart do you have to be?

Smart enough not to use your employment email address - and perhaps smart enough to obscure your identity ?

"It's funny how many people will even respond to fraudulent requests to surrender information to 'da man', thinking that everyone pisses their pants before even considering imposing as federal agents, not thinking that it could be kinda hard to execute federal US law against someone located in a country ending in -stan," wrote one Slashdot poster. [Opportunist]

"Sending highly private, personal information to someone you've never met, know nothing about and whose identity you can't even be sure of (as in this case!) means you're just an idiot. There's really no way around that one." wrote another. [Southpaw018]

There's a sense that what prompts much of the outrage isn't simply the privacy breach - and Fortuny may have been as successful in drawing attention to the brittle nature of privacy as any campaign by the ACLU, whatever you may think of his methods. One wonders if some of the outrage is stimulated by the brutal fact that computer networks aren't the idyllic, utopian playground some imagine them to be.

Similarly synthetic outrage greeted the news that one of YouTube's "user generated" hits of the summer - lonelygirl15 - was a professionally scripted and produced series, and not the "authentic" video blog it purported to be.

Last month film maker Brian Flemming explained why it was an elaborate "fake" - and later paid tribute to the quality of the production - an "impressive debut", he wrote.

This only earned him a lot of hostility from viewers anxious to maintain the illusion.

"Stop with the LG15 nonsense. I've enjoyed your musings on politics and religion for several months now. Big fan of TGWWT. This shit about the YouTube girl and her hoax is kind of lame though.. I admire and respect you but I'm this close to deleting your blog from my bookmarks," wrote one.

Illusions certainly die hard. ®

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