The University Information Technology Central Services has changed its fingering methods in the telnet system due to cases of stalking. The finger service, originally provided for researchers to locate their colleagues online, has seen problems within the past few years because of a lack of privacy.

“One of the pieces of information that can be obtained through the fingering service is the console location,” said ITCS Systems Manager Seth Meyer. “It allowed people to physically go there and find (the person). Obviously that can be used for good or bad.”

Users that logged into the telnet system were able to type in anyone”s unique name to find out the last time the person was logged in, as well as the location from which they were logged in. Fingering also allowed users to access the “ytalk” system, which functions as a real-time online conversation mechanism.

ITCS administrators said they examined several options, such as removing the finger service completely in favor of the alternative real-time messaging system, Zypher, or keeping a finger service that does not give away console locations. ITCS chose the latter system, which will remain in place until further notice.

Zypher “is actually a voluntary service,” Meyer said. “If you don”t want people to know where you are, you can turn it off. This way, it isn”t forced on users.”

“Some people know how to use Zypher, some people don”t,” said Sandy Colombo, director of operations for the University computing environment. “Some alternatives are being explored. We would like to discuss this with various constituencies on campus.”

The problem of privacy arouse when issues of stalking by use of the fingering system were reported to ITCS.

“The original computer networking infrastructure was created openly,” said Kim Cobb, director of communications for ITCS. “The few researchers using the system trusted each other. Privacy issues are raising more and more. As a society, we need to deal with these issues.”

Many people have expressed concern about the fingering system and the amount of information it allows others to obtain.

“Usually it”s an ex-boyfriend stalking a female,” Meyer said. “People don”t usually take any legal action. That”s part of the problem is that they don”t want to be stalked, but won”t press legal charges.”

Situations reported, which according to Colombo are often in the form of e-mails, are then turned over to ITCS or the Department of Public Safety.

Although ITCS maintains that these incidents occur, DPS said it did not know of such incidents.

“We haven”t had any reports where people have logged in to a computer and then physically got there to find someone else,” said DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown.

Since all logins, as well as fingering incidents, are recorded in logs administered by the University, the information can be found for use as evidence in these cases.

“It”s not currently monitored on a real-time basis, but when the information is needed, you can get it,” Meyer said.

However, since the individual being fingered is unaware, there have been complaints as to why the system has not been terminated sooner, or made less intrusive.

“You”d have to ask a question why would some want that information, who is not a system administrator, to find out where they are,” Colombo said. “When would that be a legitimate situation for them to know without people”s knowledge.”

The fingering system will remain turned on without indicating console locations until either another system is devised, or it is deemed a sufficient solution to the privacy problem.

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