Skip to content

Conferences, Privacy Expectations, and the Dreaded Dongle

Yeah. This is a "dongle".

Greetings, loyal reader!

Hmm, it has been a while since I last posted, hasn’t it? My apologies. There was a…and then it…and with one thing or another, suddenly six months passed.

I’ve come out of temporary hibernation to discuss the current hoopla over “dongles” and the recent spate of firings. The link will take you to a well-drafted timeline with some embedded commentary to give context.

Go ahead, click the link. I’ll wait.
Back? Excellent.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the situation, and see where else it could have been resolved without escalating as badly as it did.

Did Adria have a right to feel offended by the comment?

Yes, of course. It’s hard to measure “offense” by a reasonable person standard, although the law generally pretends to do so. Suggesting that she was oversensitive and should have “let it slide” both belittles her experience and fails to address the root issue she was attempting to redress, namely, that technical fields are often hostile environments for women.

Should the unnamed employee have had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” at the conference?

That’s a legal term, yes, and likely not. Most conventions and conferences post disclaimers on their tickets and in their literature reminding attendees that they will be in a photo-friendly environment, and, by attending, they may have waived their right to object to having their photograph taken. Where it gets a bit tricky is where the photographer profits from the photograph more because of the person portrayed as opposed to the subject matter, but for a “news” story such as this one, that creative discussion is likely moot.

Even if he didn’t have a right to privacy, should Adria have published his photo to her followers?
Here we come to the crux of the issue. Should she have identified him as the person who made the comment that offended her? I agree with the timeline author in that such an action is usually the last resort in a civil discussion, where personal appeals, rational discourse, and alerting the proper moderators/authorities have failed. It would have been a great teaching moment, and even tweeting without the photograph (or tweeting an altered photograph) would have made her point without lighting up the blogosphere.

Should either company have fired their employee?
Again, that’s a loaded question. The companies likely made the decision based on factors that weren’t made public, but in doing so, PlayHaven escalated the situation until the only recourse was to respond in a similar fashion or brave the storm of criticism. And as tempting as it might sound, it’s not actually possible to fire the internet.

At various points, this outcome could have been avoided or downgraded, but once the Tweet went live, public pressure and criticism (and DoS attacks) pretty much guaranteed the outcome.

Modern society makes it very easy to share content contemporaneously with the first creative impulse…and that is not always a good thing. A variety of photo and digital “paper trails” exist that might be regretted at a later time by those with cooler heads, but technology and youth culture are slowly pushing expected behaviors further along the “share now, share everything” continuum.

What it boils down to is that likely, he shouldn’t have made the joke, and she shouldn’t have taken the picture, and it might be very interesting to see whether either will change their behavior going forward.

Posted in Wednesday: Current Issues.