The Limits of Privacy

Would you share information about your online purchases with the world?

7 July 2010

Blippy, a Twitter-like Web site that automatically broadcasts what users purchase with their credit and debit cards, suffered a major privacy breach in April. Several credit card numbers, which their owners gave to the site when they signed up, were exposed in Google search results. Blippy shows what users bought, how much it cost, and where they bought it. Privacy advocates say people who use sites such as Blippy are divulging a dangerous level of personal information. But Blippy representatives say that sharing what people bought is just the next step in social networking and that such information explores how much our purchases reflect our personalities.

What do you think it says about people’s attitude toward privacy if they’re sharing details of their purchases with the world? Does Blippy go too far?


Responses to April’s Question

Taking a Meeting, Virtually

As companies cut back on staff travel because of budget concerns, some are holding their meetings in cyberspace. More than 1400 organizations, including IBM and IEEE, are meeting in the Second Life virtual community. Second Life allows users to create digital avatars of themselves and interact with each other. Users can make PowerPoint presentations, chat with other virtual attendees using audio or text messages, and share electronic files.

Are virtual meetings a good idea? What is your experience with them?


Just as Effective

I worked on a project that used Second Life as a development platform. Virtual meetings were held for regular weekly meetings and day-to-day work. We needed time at the beginning to become accustomed to the technology of Second Life and to iron out problems with our computer systems and networks. But when everything worked, the virtual meetings were as effective as face-to-face meetings.

Todd Cochrane
Wellington, New Zealand


Many Benefits, Few Drawbacks

I like virtual meetings for several reasons. I’m able to stay at my desk, so there’s no time wasted walking to and from a conference room—in fact, we don’t even need a conference room—and attendees are less likely to hold peripheral conversations that distract others. Virtual meetings reduce travel time and cut expenses, allowing important meetings to take place without being concerned about cost. Yet attendees can get to meet people from around the world. Attendees can even complete other work while monitoring a meeting.

However, I still have face-to-face meetings and consider them valuable. When starting a new project, for example, I need information that usually cannot be provided during a virtual meeting.

David George
Los Gatos, Calif.


Not for Strangers

Electronic meetings are effective in many circumstances. However, they work best when all the participants know each other well and have had a face-to-face encounter within the past six months. Virtual get-togethers are most effective when the meeting can follow an agenda that takes less than 60 minutes, needs little creative interaction, and can be recorded.

John E. Montague
Columbia, S.C.


Stress-Free Alternative

Virtual meetings are effective not only because they cut costs but also because they’re more convenient. You don’t have to deal with the stress of trying to catch a flight and going through security checks.

Edgar Guzman
Monterrey, Mexico


Valuable Asset

I think they offer great synergies and time savings over traditional meetings. In today’s environment of trying to get more done with less, virtual meetings play a prominent role. They might be especially helpful for IEEE standards development work.

David Wojtczak
Waukesha, Wis.


IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More