Woman's sex review proves there is no privacy online

Posted October 7, 2010 11:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2010 6:06 a.m. EDT

— A mock thesis that appears to be written by a Duke University student about her sexual exploits became an Internet sensation this week, raising concerns about whether anything shared online can ever be private.

CBS News reported that Karen Owen sent the 42-page PowerPoint report to a few friends by e-mail. Eventually, it showed up online.

The report, called “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics,” includes names, photographs and specific descriptions, and it has ratings of more than a dozen men using charts and graphs.

Steve Wiley, an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University, said publication of the document means the details inside could come back to haunt the author and the men she profiled.

"When you go to apply for a job or meet somebody new, that person may be Googling your name," he said.

Current technology means there are no secrets on the Web, Wiley said. What is posted or passed online does not go away.

"It is best to assume we are under surveillance at one form or another most of the time,” Wiley said.

In a statement, a Duke University spokesman said the university is trying to help those who were named.

"Our foremost concern is to provide for the well-being of our students and to respect their privacy," Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations. "We've been reaching out to those who've been affected by this incident and will continue to support them."

The men named might have legal recourse, Wiley said.

"In dealing with situations where someone’s communication behavior is hurtful to others, there are libel and slander laws," he said.