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August 15, 2003

New Site Shows Dangers of Posting Personal Info Online

Imagine watching the news one evening and seeing a story about online scams.  Now imagine that your web site and photograph was shown as part of that story, even though you have nothing to do with the subject matter.

New Site Shows Dangers of Posting Personal Info OnlineThis is precisely the situation that Elena Petrova, founder of "Elena's Models", finds herself in. She has even launched a web site - to bring attention to her situation in hopes of sparking a reform of this unfair TV news industry practice.

A top-rated Australian TV program featured web pages and photos from her online agency "Elena's Models" to visually illustrate a story about immigration scams. However, the persons interviewed in the TV story had nothing to do with Elena's Models, none of them used services of Elena's Models, nor were they members of Elena's Models.

Ms. Petrova is justifiably upset. Se said "Did you know that any information published on the Internet is considered to be in *public domain*?  This means media is legally allowed to use images or snapshots of your website, or your photo as illustration to their stories, regardless of what the topic of their story is."

What started all this?

On Sunday May 11, 2003, the Australian TV program "60 minutes" used the pages of a small Internet agency "Elena's Models" and photos of the members of "Elena's  Models" as illustrations to the story about immigration scams, "Russian Roulette". The persons interviewed in the story had nothing to do with Elena's Models, but this was not disclosed to the viewers, who were left to believe it was Elana's Models web site that was involved in the scam.

In a phone conversation 60 minutes (Channel Nine, Australia) admitted that none of the persons depicted in the story was connected to Elena's Models. Nevertheless, the name of the agency Elena's Models was recognizably displayed in the very beginning of the TV program "Russian Roulette", and the snapshot of the website displaying the name "Elena's Models" was used on the website of 60 minutes as illustration to the transcript of the story. The picture on the left hand side is a copy of the snapshot that 60 minutes used on their website in the promo of the story "Russian Roulette" investigating "heartless immigration scams".

Petrova contacted the Australian Broadcasting Authority, and received word that an investigation has been opened, however the ABA told her that if anything is published on the Internet, a TV program is ALLOWED to use this material in the broadcast, since it is "in the public domain".

Ms. Petrova has some words of advice for anyone with a web site or with personal photos available online "people are not even aware that their personal ads can be broadcast on the national TV to a millions of people and that such use of their ads would be allowable by regulations for a TV broadcast in Australia. That's worrying. Internet personals have ads for hundreds of thousands of people. How comfortable would those people feel knowing they might see their picture on TV tomorrow?"

To read more about the ongoing developments, visit

(As of August 15, 2003, the transcript of the story "Russian Roulette" can still be found on the website of 60 minutes. If you cannot find the transcript of the story at the link above, it means 60 minutes decided to remove the page.)

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