Data privacy and the online directory

Discussions about the Directory Tool on lds.org. Questions about the Directory on the classic site should be posted in the LUWS forum.
bgraabek
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Data privacy and the online directory

Postby bgraabek » Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:17 pm

I have been working on getting members in my stake to acquire an LDS account and use the online directory, but some members have expressed distrust of the system with regards to data privacy. Looking at the system more closely (and putting myself in their shoes) I would agree that there are a number of data privacy issues with the current online Directory available via new.lds.org. I think it is important that some of these issues be addressed asap so potential users don't lose faith in the directory before it has even seen much use. Some of the issues are only a matter of changing the displayed text. In no particular order...

1)
Members have mentioned to me that they feel unsafe about the fact that all that is required to create an LDS account is the membership number and birth date. With the strictness of privacy laws in some countries and the concern some members obviously have about some of their data being available to others, this ought to be tightened up. One member in my stake has been a victim of identity theft and believes the information used came from church records of some kind.
Some ideas and suggestions for additional data that could be requested that have just popped into my head are:

  • Surname (I can see the problem with asking for complete name as their name may have been incorrectly entered in MLS once upon a time, but surely their surname or maybe first name ought to be correct. If it isn't, the data ought to be corrected in MLS anyway)
  • Special field in MLS where the member tells the ward clerk what the content should be so when an LDS account is created only he/she can create it because of knowledge about what is in that field
  • Automatically mailed letter with special code which is created when an LDS account is requested. That code has to be entered to finish the process
  • Or maybe just better information at the time the LDS account is created about what information is and isn't available once the account has been created so members feel more comfortable with the whole thing.
2)
If you opt-in to make your profile public, it says that you "Allow authenticated members of my stake [district] to see my household information in the online directory as configured on this page". For "HOUSEHOLD INFORMATION" and "HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS" you then have the option to "Show in branch directory" or "Show in ward directory" (depending on your unit). But the data you have chosen to show is in fact visible to everyone in the stake, not just to everyone in the ward/branch.

3)
If you have a leadership position you have no way of seeing what changes to your profile means to the visibility of your information to other members. There ought to be an option where I can choose to view the directory as if I was another non-leadership member. I have myself resorted to use my wifes LDS account to be able to see the directory as a non-leadership member. And evewn then I can't see what exactly other members can or can't see about my own household. And if I had been single and in a leadership position that option wouldn't even be available to me. I have for several years used an online photo album that has exactly this option, the option to view the album as "guest".

4)
In "Conditions of opting-in" in the directory it states that:
"By opting in you are agreeing to allow your name and personal contact information to be used from your Church membership record and displayed in your local unit's online directory listing, in spatial mapping features that identify your personal residence within the unit"
and
"You may opt out of participation in the on-line directory, mapping, ... at any time by simply unchecking the appropriate box in your profile"
Another example of incorrect information. Household locations are visible to ANY member in the stake irrespective of whether they have opted in or out.

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aebrown
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Postby aebrown » Fri Dec 03, 2010 4:59 pm

bgraabek wrote:1)
Members have mentioned to me that they feel unsafe about the fact that all that is required to create an LDS account is the membership number and birth date. With the strictness of privacy laws in some countries and the concern some members obviously have about some of their data being available to others, this ought to be tightened up.


There's always a balance between privacy and cost & hassle on the other side. Initially, creating an LDS Account required the membership number and confirmation date, which is a bit more obscure than a birth date. But that caused a lot of problems with registration -- since the switch to using birth date, I've had far fewer complaints about how hard it is to register.

Once a member creates the account, then no one else can take over the account with simply the membership number and birth date, so it's much harder to steal than create. To my mind, if someone is nervous about privacy, that's an argument for creating an LDS Account, not an argument against creating one.

bgraabek wrote:2)
If you opt-in to make your profile public, it says that you "Allow authenticated members of my stake [district] to see my household information in the online directory as configured on this page". For "HOUSEHOLD INFORMATION" and "HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS" you then have the option to "Show in branch directory" or "Show in ward directory" (depending on your unit). But the data you have chosen to show is in fact visible to everyone in the stake, not just to everyone in the ward/branch.


The first statement is completely true. The labels on the checkboxes for "Show in ward directory" seem to be pretty close to true -- there is no stake directory per se, but only a ward directory. Yes, that ward directory is visible to everyone in the stake, but you were accurately warned about that in the opt-in statement. So I fail to see how this is misleading; no statement was ever made that your information would be available only to members of your ward, and that is not implied by a reference to a ward directory.

bgraabek wrote:3)
If you have a leadership position you have no way of seeing what changes to your profile means to the visibility of your information to other members. There ought to be an option where I can choose to view the directory as if I was another non-leadership member. I have myself resorted to use my wifes LDS account to be able to see the directory as a non-leadership member. And evewn then I can't see what exactly other members can or can't see about my own household. And if I had been single and in a leadership position that option wouldn't even be available to me. I have for several years used an online photo album that has exactly this option, the option to view the album as "guest".


The number of leaders who have special visibility is relatively small, and the rules are pretty simple -- if you say a piece of information shouldn't be shown, it won't be visible to anyone except other leaders.

Although this doesn't affect very many people, if you feel strongly about it, you are certainly welcome to request the feature using the Feedback link.

bgraabek wrote:4)
In "Conditions of opting-in" in the directory it states that:
"By opting in you are agreeing to allow your name and personal contact information to be used from your Church membership record and displayed in your local unit's online directory listing, in spatial mapping features that identify your personal residence within the unit"
and
"You may opt out of participation in the on-line directory, mapping, ... at any time by simply unchecking the appropriate box in your profile"
Another example of incorrect information. Household locations are visible to ANY member in the stake irrespective of whether they have opted in or out.


I haven't verified that, but if this is accurate, then you have a good point. The mapping application definitely should respect the privacy settings entered in the directory application.
Questions that can benefit the larger community should be asked in a public forum, not a private message.

bgraabek
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Postby bgraabek » Sat Dec 04, 2010 2:58 am

I should probably first mention that I am personally not too fussed about the data privacy issues raised by the online directory. There is not very much personal information in the online directory that can be misused.
I presented the online tools now available at a recent bishopric training meeting (where most of the high councillors were present too) and I was taken aback at the concern (and from some of the people present, negative remarks) about the online directory and data privacy issues. Some of that can possibly be handled with more information, but if some of the information in and about the online directory was easier to understand, well, that would help too.

Alan_Brown wrote:There's always a balance between privacy and cost & hassle on the other side. Initially, creating an LDS Account required the membership number and confirmation date, which is a bit more obscure than a birth date. But that caused a lot of problems with registration -- since the switch to using birth date, I've had far fewer complaints about how hard it is to register.


Considering my experience at the meeting mentioned above, I think we should err on the side of data privacy rather than the side of cost and hassle. As I mentioned in my first post, one of the members said he had been a victim of identity theft and he believed that a membership list had been used. The identity theft had been very costly to him, so I think this particular member would rather have the church incur more cost than have identity theft happen because of the online directory.
You can argue (which I intend to do) that the online directory is safer than old paper-based membership list (which can easily be lost) but it was quite obvious to me at the above-mentioned meeting that this was a very emotive issue, and facts and logic very seldom penetrate that. So make it a less emotive issue by making it more secure.

Alan_Brown wrote:Once a member creates the account, then no one else can take over the account with simply the membership number and birth date, so it's much harder to steal than create. To my mind, if someone is nervous about privacy, that's an argument for creating an LDS Account, not an argument against creating one.


I actually argued that very fact, which probably caused even more emotion. And putting myself in the shoes of those that are concerned about this (not all at the meeting were against the present setup) I must admit that its a lame "excuse". Also, the above fact will not be lost on the computer-literate whereas the computer-illiterate won't necessarily understand + forcing the computer illiterate to create accounts so they can be safe (or at least feel safe) is the opposite of how this should work. There are still people who don't want to use the internet (I've got one ward clerk who has told me he has used computers all his working life, now that he is retired he doesn't want to use one at home). A simple way of adding a bit more protection would be to allow members to go to the ward clerk and have him set a flag in MLS that they will never want to create an LDS account for example. A few years from today this will probably be considered laughable, but as I keep repeating myself, this I have found to currently be a very emotive issue.

Alan_Brown wrote:The first statement is completely true. The labels on the checkboxes for "Show in ward directory" seem to be pretty close to true -- there is no stake directory per se, but only a ward directory. Yes, that ward directory is visible to everyone in the stake, but you were accurately warned about that in the opt-in statement. So I fail to see how this is misleading; no statement was ever made that your information would be available only to members of your ward, and that is not implied by a reference to a ward directory.


Whilst you may be factually correct, it is easy to misunderstand. I initially interpreted the information to mean that if I clicked on "Show in ward directory" it would only be visible to ward members, not to the whole stake.

Alan_Brown wrote:The number of leaders who have special visibility is relatively small, and the rules are pretty simple -- if you say a piece of information shouldn't be shown, it won't be visible to anyone except other leaders.
Although this doesn't affect very many people, if you feel strongly about it, you are certainly welcome to request the feature using the Feedback link.


The local church leaders are the ones I am working on to get them to use the online tools. If it is unclear to them what is and isn't visible they might not promote their use to their members. I almost couldn't care less, but what I do feel strongly about is making the members comfortable with using the online tools. The feedback option is obviously relevant, but what I was more hoping for was some online debate about data privacy as it applies to the new online tools, not outright dismissal (before this is potentially misunderstood, I have not taken offence and mean no offence) of the issues which, to my own cost, I have found to be very emotive.

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aebrown
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Postby aebrown » Sat Dec 04, 2010 5:50 am

bgraabek wrote:Some of that can possibly be handled with more information, but if some of the information in and about the online directory was easier to understand, well, that would help too.


On this forum we can certainly supply more information, including personal experiences and opinions. That's what I tried to do. Hopefully others will also chime in so that we can have a richer discussion.

There's a slight chance that a product manager or developer from the Church will see this discussion and it will have an impact on the product, but that's not the purpose of this forum, so that's a remote possibility. The Feedback link is the means for supplying information to the people who set the direction for the product.

bgraabek wrote:I almost couldn't care less, but what I do feel strongly about is making the members comfortable with using the online tools. The feedback option is obviously relevant, but what I was more hoping for was some online debate about data privacy as it applies to the new online tools, not outright dismissal


I sincerely apologize if anything I said appeared to be "outright dismissal." My intent was simply to supply some discussion points that I hoped would be useful in your discussions with your members and leaders. In any discussion there will likely be contrasting points of view; if they are presented respectfully, hopefully this contrast will further the discussion, not dismiss it.
Questions that can benefit the larger community should be asked in a public forum, not a private message.


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