Tuesday, July 06, 2010

TinyChat Responds to Inquiry Regarding Public IP Disclosure

This is a follow up to the story TinyChats Privacy Policy and IP Disclosure

I requested information from Tinychat regarding what their policies on disclosing members IP addresses publicly when a chat room is closed and they claim it is specifically to allow law enforcement to see IP addresses when a room is terminated.  Here is what I asked them:

1. Why do you feel the need to display users IP addresses of individuals in a room that has been closed by Tinychat staff/moderators?
2. How long does this list containing users IP addresses remain up on your server for?
3. Is it possible for an individual to request to have their IP removed from this list?
4. Do you feel you are acting responsibly and providing safety and security to your users by publicly displaying their IP addresses in a room that has been closed?
5. Do you believe there is any security risk or privacy concern by displaying individuals IP addresses publicly in this way?
6. Do you have any further comments on why you have this policy at Tinychat and if you plan to continue to do so in the future?

Their response:

Room closures can happen when a federal or state law enforcement officer contacts us, requesting us to do so. Regrettably, the option to close or not close a room is not always in our hands, as we have to obey requests from law enforcement just like any other company. We would of course like to never have to close a room but as I said, this is not always in our control. We have been publicly posting the IP's for the ease of the LEO Agent in those situations, however I do agree that this data should not be posted publicly and I will be discussing internally and with law enforcement ways that we can continue to obey their requests without publicly showing this data . Additionally, if you can give me the room name in question, I can expedite the removal of that from public view. 
So, Tinychat claims that their room closures happen when law enforcement contacts them.  I do not believe this is always the case, as I'm sure law enforcement officers aren't sitting back and waiting for girls to get nude on Tinychat so they can close a room a post IPs.  Furthermore, if violations do occur and law enforcement requests information about a room, there is no distinguishing information as to who was active, who was displaying a cam, who was moderating the room or etc, making it nearly impossible to determine anything relevant that could be used as an investigation or a prosecution.

I believe Tinychat simply does this to embarrass users and discourage them from returning.  Obviously Tinychat wants to run a clean service that does not include nudity or issues of persons under legal age, which brings up a whole host of problems for a site like this due to COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.  I believe Tinychat is technically in violation of COPPA since they allow unregistered users to display themselves on camera in public chat rooms viewable by other anonymous visitors.

At this point, I do not believe anyone in the misc who was in a Tinychat room and has had their IP publicly posted should be concerned about being contacted by law enforcement.  But, I will try and determine more about the situation from Tinychat directly.

If any user wanted to continue to use the Tinychat service, regardless of their highly questionable privacy policy, I would recommend using some form of proxy tool, such as Anonymizer, to mask their IP address from being viewed and logged by Tinychat.

It is a plus on Tinychat's end that they are reviewing this policy internally, as they say, and hopefully will mend their ways.  I will contact them back further and post more updates as they come in.  Feel free to add your comments, questions, concerns and input.

UPDATE: TinyChat failed to respond to my further inquires about their policies, as did the EFF when I put the question to them regarding the legality of TinyChat's policies.  I have heard no further updates or complaints from users about having their rooms closed and their IPs posted, so this issue may have been resolved.  However, if you know otherwise, please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email through my contact link on the right.  It appears that TinyChat is no longer publicly posting users IP addresses when rooms are closed.  If you find information showing otherwise, please let me know.
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