Anatomy of a Privacy Nightmare

Celebrities, politicians, and sports stars know that one of the big prices of fame and fortune is the loss of personal privacy. If you screw up big - by, say, fathering a child out of wedlock with your housekeeper - you're the Big Story, at least until the next Big Story hits.

But what about ordinary folks like you and me? When fame or infamy hits us - even when it's based on nothing we've done - the results can be devastating. There is no place to hide. And a big reason there's no place to hide has to do with the nature of the InterWebs, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and most especially search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

The case du jour: Gennette Cordova.

This 21 year old student at Washington State found herself at the center of maelstrom of unwanted attention last week after receiving an alleged close-up photo of Congressman Anthony Weiner in his boxers, sent from Weiner's Twitter account.

[See also: Google wants to be your wallet. ]

Cordova posted a statement to the New York Daily News site thoroughly denying she'd ever met the unfortunately named Congressman and pointing the finger at Twitter miscreants with a political ax to grind. She writes:

The last 36 hours have been the most confusing, anxiety-ridden hours of my life. I've watched in sheer disbelief as my name, age, location, links to any social networking site I've ever used, my old phone numbers and pictures have been passed along from stranger to stranger.

My friends have received phone calls from people claiming to be old friends of mine, attempting to obtain my contact information. My siblings have received tweets that are similar in nature. I began taking steps, though not quickly enough, to remove as much personal information from the Internet as possible.

No matter. The story had already found its way onto the InterWebs and gone viral. And because the "scandal" involves a leftie politician who takes no quarter from the other side, some wingnut bloggers just couldn't let it go.

Cordova tried to "scrub" herself off the InterWebs - making her Twitter stream private, erasing her Facebook account, even asking to have her bylines removed from stories she wrote for her college newspaper. You can guess how well that worked. She found out first hand exactly how hard it is to erase the trail of breadcrumbs on the Internet, and that the very attempt to do that makes you look guilty as charged.

A Google image search on her name turns up a few dozen images of Cordova, mostly of two photos that were republished on snarky sites with names like WeaselZippers:

Gennette Cordova image search

Services like Reputation.com exist to remove unwanted photos and damaging blog posts about their clients. But the service's success depends primarily on their ability to convince sites to voluntarily remove the images and stories. That's not likely to happen in this case - especially given that this is now a "news" story, something Reputation.com really can't touch.

And until a site's Webmaster removes the offending content, it will remain accessible via search engines like Google. (And it also may remain after it's removed, until you tell Google et al to remove these items from its cache.)

Politicians like Weiner are used to this kind of thing. It's an old tactic and both sides do it - accuse your opponent of something awful simply so he or she is forced to deny it, thus reinforcing the accusation in the minds of people whose brains are too small to process much more than that.

But Gennette Cordova doesn't deserve this. She didn't do anything wrong. She isn't running for office. She's not a movie star or in the NBA. She's just a student who was on the wrong end of an Internet prank turned nasty.

It happened to her. Just like one day it could happen to you.

TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan has also not received a picture of Rep.Weiner's weiner. Can we move on to something more important now? Visit his eHumor site eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @ tynan_on_tech .

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