Call it a flickr.com for the unwilling: Users of P-to-P (peer-to-peer) networks are finding photos stored in shared folders are being published on a new voyeuristic Web site that went live a few days ago, but the site may violate laws, a legal expert said.
Fitography.com is perhaps another example of how the Internet can be both prying and surprising. Since it started Dec. 30, reams of searchable photos have been posted, running the gamut from the mundane to the eccentric to the slightly disturbing: an outdoor barbecue, a crowd at a Pearl Jam concert; a group of U.S. Army soldiers posing with actor Denzel Washington, a woman giving birth in an operating room.
In a Thursday news release announcing the site's launch, the webmaster is identified as Brad Gosse of Yourbrain Media, a company based in Orangeville, Ontario. Gosse is quoted in the release as warning users of P-to-P networks such as Limewire and Kazaa to be careful what photos they place in the shared folders of those applications. P-to-P programs typically have a folder that allow remote users to access and download that content, but users can turn off the file-sharing feature.
If photos are in the shared folder "we will probably have them on our site sooner or later," he said in the release, which goes on to say that if someone finds a photo they do not want on fitography.com, it will be removed.
A Google search for the company yielded a description "Adult entertainment for the World Wide Web. Making money for webmasters and affiliates for over 5 years," but a visit to the company's official site yielded no more information.
While a cursory search of the photos didn't quickly turn up anything pornographic, the depth of the site makes it exceedingly difficult to tell what is there. Gosse couldn't immediately be reached Thursday, and it is unclear what technology is used to download the photos from the shared folder.
But an Internet privacy and security lawyer said the site poses several areas of legal concern. Fitography.com could violate the terms of service of P-to-P networks, many of which prohibit the use of material on the networks for commercial purposes, said Parry Aftab, who consults corporations on online security issues and runs WiredSafety.org, an online safety charity.
Fitography.com has Google ads. "If they are violating the law, Google may want to know about it," Aftab said.
Also, if photographs that would qualify as child pornography are posted, the Web site's publishers would be liable for producing and distributing the content even if they were unaware the material was on their site, Aftab said. Further, the U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act restricts commercial Web sites from posting personal identification information for people under the age of 13 without proper parental consent, she said. That act also sets other restrictions on the use of information on children.
In Europe, laws such as the Data Protection Act in the U.K can require a person's consent before divulging, for example, information about their religion. It would put into question the publishing of a photograph of someone wearing a Jewish yarmulke, Aftab said.
Publishing the site "could be risky," Aftab said. "I think they should be very cautious about what they are doing."
A couple of anonymous postings on the front page of fitography.com have pegged its potential for both trouble and mindless entertainment. Under the title "incriminating," one user wrote "This stuff could get some people in trouble."
"What a great collection of pics," wrote another user. "I could waste hours every day trolling this web site. Good job. I have bookmarked this for when I get bored."