Gravatar Privacy Concern

Gravatars

When you comment on blogs, you are required to enter your email address. In many blogs the email address is a mandatory field to submit a comment. Many of us give our email addresses without any hesitation. This is because the email address is not displayed in any shape or form to identify you.

But, the use of Gravatars in the comments section has led to a potential privacy issue. For those who do not know what a Gravatar is, here is a quick explanation. Gravatar is an icon/image that is associated with your email address. You can sign up for this free service at http://gravatar.com. When you sign up, you are asked to associate an image to your email address. Gravatar.com will send you a message to your email to confirm that you are the actual owner of that email address. Once you have confirmed your identity (by clicking on link in the email), your email id is officially associated with the image you have chosen.

When you comment in a blog with the above email address, your Gravatar image will be displayed next to your comments. Many blogs nowadays have support for Gravatars. This means your Gravatar picture will pop up on blogs you commented in the past. For example, if you commented on a blog 3 years ago and that blog has been upgraded to support Gravatar, your picture will be displayed along with that comment.

This may cause some privacy concerns for certain people. For example, you may belong to a particular political party and you have commented extensively on political blogs. Assuming that you have always been using the same email address while commenting on all blogs. Now that you have a Gravatar image associated with your email address it will appear on all blogs that you have commented in the past. As a result your political views (that you wanted to keep private) are revealed to anyone on the Internet. This is especially true if you are well known by many.

This privacy issue is not the fault of Gravatar. It was caused by using the same email address for all your commenting needs. Here are 2 tips to avoid this problem:

    1. Use different email addresses for different purposes.
    2. Use a secret email address when commenting on blogs. This prevents any mischief makers from using your email address while commenting and your Gravatar image from showing up with their comments.

      Having stated the above points, there is nothing preventing a person from using your image/logo with their email address. I am not sure how Gravatar overcomes this issue. Can a complaint be filed at Gravatar.com in this instance? Please share your thoughts and opinions.

      Comments

      1. I’m a technology lawyer for a Fortune 100 company and my concern around Gravatar is not that a new picture will be associated with my e-mail address. I am far more concerned that Gravatar-enabled blogs send my e-mail address to Gravatar whenever I comment (even if I am not a registered Gravatar user). Gravatar can then track my internet usage associated with that e-mail address across multiple sites. Gravatar does not publish a privacy policy (what they call a privacy policy on their site is not sufficient), does not let users cancel their registration, and does not tell users how Gravatar uses the personal information they collect. I always recommend that people that are concerned with their privacy should not comment on Gravatar-enabled blogs.

      2. @AL, You raised a very interesting point. Thank You.

      3. I think the biggest privacy issue regarding the use of Gravatar on blog sites is the possibility of others to use one’s identity to post an article or comment. Take this for instance.

        Joe registers an account to Gravatar and uplaods his photo. He goes to sites and comment to blogs by entering his name and email address. No password is required (because this is how Gravatar was designed to be). Sites supporting Gravatar auto fetches his photo from Gravatar and displays his photo together with his comments.

        Jane, for some reasons, hates Joe. She know his email address (alhtough she has no access to his email account). She learns Joe uses Gravatar. She goes to a site, posts some offending comments and enters Joe’s name and email address. No password was requested from her. The offending comment was posted on the blog with Joe’s real name and real photo.

        Scary…

      4. Unless you are careful while setting up your Gravatar image and unless some blog owner decides to use your Gravatar email ID and decides to use it to leave unpleasant comments, posing as YOU, I think it is not much of a concern.

        Thankfully, this world is not yet infested with many malicious blog owners who would use your Gravatar mail ID and try to defame you :P

      5. @TechChunks, you had pointed an even more interesting point here.

        ~Mike

      Speak Your Mind

      *