There Is No Such Thing as Anonymity on the Web Any More…

The Globe and Mail carried a story on the front page (Wed Nov 3, 2005) that illustrates the power of the Internet. A 15 year old boy who was conceived with the help of a sperm donation set out to find his birth father. He submited a swab of saliva from the inside of his cheek to the web based paying $298 USD to register on the site. Within nine months, and with his permission, he is contacted by two men with similar DNA profiles … both with similar sounding names (but different spellings). Using this possible family name and other information his mother had (the sperm donor’s place and date of birth) he obtained a list of people born that date in that place from another service

On the list of names provided from Omnitrace, the teen finds a matching name. Voila!

While I could not locate the electronic copy for this article on the Globe and Mail web site, there are a number of articles on the web telling this same story … with slight variations in the text. A quick search on Google News (search terms used: saliva birth father DNA) will net you most of these articles.

This story raises a number of questions:

– What does the Net mean for anonymity? Is there any such thing anymore?
– Do we have the right to turn the clock back 15 years and change the rules? (after all, at the time of the donation, the father was most likely assured full anonymity)
– What should sperm donation services do – now that this case is out in the open?

I am sure there are lots of other questions raised by this case … but I will leave those questions and answers to some of you who are eminently more qualified to deal with these than I.

One other point: this story illustrates that there are tools out there that go beyond Google. We need to remember that there is information out there on the web (The Deep Web) that won’t be found with a Google search. Too many of us have fallen into the trap of using Google as the ‘only tool in the shed’ or ‘the only club in the bag’. The lessons from this 15 year old … chose the right tool(s) for your search … and have patience … how many of us would wait nine months for the answer to a query?

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