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Ethical concerns about privacy and transparency clash following launch of leak website ‘Distributed Denial of Secrets’

A picture taken on October 17, 2016 shows an employee typing on a computer keyboard.
A picture taken on October 17, 2016 shows an employee typing on a computer keyboard.
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We live in a world where it seems like we hear about a new data dump, security breach or other mass information disclosure every couple of weeks.

Just last week, hotel chain Marriott International announced that the data of as many as half a billion users had been compromised by hackers. But what about when a trove of data that could be of public interest falls into the hands of people who might want to publish it not to enable others to steal identities or commit financial crimes, but to allow access to researchers, journalists and others who might have a good reason to want to see it.

Enter “Distributed Denial of Secrets,” an online database that de-facto spokesperson Emma Best describes as “a collective/distribution system for leaked and hacked data.” It launched Monday morning with the intent of being a catch-all for leaked data before it fades into obscurity amid the constantly updating World Wide Web. But the site’s creation has not come without its challenges, maybe most pressing of them all is the ethical question of how to decide what data to publish, what data to hold back, what data to publish in redacted form, and generally how to balance privacy concerns with the desire for transparency. Best notes in a tweet that she and her colleagues expect controversy and debate as data continues to drop.

What, if any, potential utility do you see for a website database of leaked or hacked information? What ethical concerns do you have about how the decision is made to publish or not publish a particular data set?


Emma Best, a Boston-based member of the collective behind the “Distributed Denial of Secrets” site

Lisa Lynch, associate professor of media and communications at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey

John Simpson, a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog in Mid-City, Los Angeles and is the director of the organization’s Privacy and Technology Project