Dear Ethix – Issue 58

Protecting Information on Social Networks

A few issues ago [July/August 2007] you wrote about social networks. These powerful tools require some care in protecting information.

Facebook users have some choices (privacy settings) that allow them to “opt-out” of divulging information like email address, birth date, and phone numbers to strangers, but that is not the default configuration. Also, Facebook gathers both email address and email password from users. This allows Facebook to generate and send out email messages on behalf of the user, e.g., to invite another Facebook user to join a group of “friends.” While I assume that Facebook itself does not misuse this information, it is simply fundamental common sense to never divulge any of your passwords to anyone, and in particular, to some page on a website somewhere.

How is an ordinary Internet “user” supposed to determine what information it is OK to divulge, when it is OK, and to whom it is OK? The best advice I know is nothing, anytime, to anybody.Once in a while, I’ll encounter a situation where I decide to disregard this advice – but I do so only after careful consideration. I believe that summarizes the wisdom of being careful not lower your guard.

Mike Tindall
Seattle, Wash.

Air Travel

I’m writing in response to your article on “Gaining Value From the Components of a System: An Air Travel Experience” [September/October 2007]

It appears that you may have written this as a way to vent about your extensive trip. It’s a shame your overall airline experience gives you a pessimistic viewpoint on the progress of the aviation industry. I hear the gripes about travel more than enough.

Passengers do have a choice when it comes to airline carriers, just like when you choose to rent a car. Many carriers filed bankruptcy years ago and are struggling to get costs under control with increased fuel costs and added fees. Do you eat organic food? The cost is much higher than the normal pesticide-aided products at another grocery store. Are you willing to eat only breakfast and dinner to afford the organic food? The same goes for airline carriers; you choose a more expensive option for better results.

The experience at the airport in security is a hassle. No one likes to stand in a long line and there are so many travelers now compared to the example of when you first traveled 50 years ago. I’ll be the first to say I hate taking my shoes off, however the most time-consuming part at the X-ray machine for me is taking my laptop out of its case and strapping it back in while the bins behind me keep colliding with my bags. I just read that next summer 250 advanced X-ray machines will be installed in airports throughout the U.S. eliminating the need to remove laptops from their cases at security checkpoints.

My advice is to find the airline you prefer, the seat configuration you prefer for each airplane (, and get to the airport a little earlier to avoid the stress of security. Combine this with a positive attitude and you’ll have a good experience. You can’t control others, so start with yourself.

Angela Boyd
Travel and Hospitality Coordinator

You have offered some good advice for passengers to live with the existing transportation system. The article was targeted at finding ways to improve the overall system. Editor

Diamonds from Africa

Around Valentine’s Day, we saw a barrage of television ads enticing and imploring us to buy diamond jewelry for our loved ones. But did you know that the international diamond trade has supplied billions of dollars to rebel groups in Africa, fueling wars that have killed more than 4 million people?

The stories from these wars are harrowing. Men, women, and children have been raped, tortured, maimed, and displaced by rebel groups who have been funded in part by the illegal sale of diamonds. Diamonds have also been used by al Qaeda and other terrorists to finance their activities and for money-laundering purposes, according to news reports.

As public outrage over conflict diamonds has grown, governments and industry leaders have taken some important steps to stem their trade. But the problem still isn’t solved: For example, diamonds mined in rebel-held areas of the Ivory Coast are still being smuggled into the legitimate global market despite a U.N. embargo in place since 2005.

And while the World Diamond Council has spent millions on a global public-relations campaign, many companies have failed to match their rhetoric with action — including Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest jewelry retailer, which has been particularly vague about its processes for ensuring that conflict diamonds are not sold in its stores. This year, tell Wal-Mart to make sure jewelry purchases aren’t destroying African lives.

As American consumers — who purchase half of all retail diamonds worldwide — we have an obligation to let the industry know we care about where they’re getting their diamonds. Remember these words from Scripture:

“There is gold, and abundance of costly stones; but the lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel.” -Proverbs 20:15

The Sojourners Staff
Washington, D.C.