Privacy? What Privacy? 

An Arizona-based Web site gives the tabloid treatment to everyday people

A friend of Maya Hamill called her with the news: Someone had posted some photos of Hamill online, with the caption: "Looks like these girls gained the freshmen 50."

Hamill's reaction: "Uh, that sucks."

The pictures appeared on thedirty.com, a site featuring pictures of everyday people (and some celebrities) with corresponding snarky captions and user comments. Thedirty.com is the project of Scottsdale-based "Nik Richie." "I wasn't that mad," recalls Hamill, a UA junior. "I just thought it was rude that someone would put (pictures of me) up there."

In two of the photos, Hamill was wearing a small, black dress, posing for pictures with two friends at a local nightclub. The third picture depicted Hamill in a see-through mesh dress, standing next to UA men's basketball player Jordan Hill, who was shirtless, at a lingerie party.

Within a couple of days, viewers began posting anonymous comments that identified Hamill and made jokes like, "It looks like her clothes went through the hot cycle." Other posters called her fat.

Hamill says she's comfortable enough with who she is that the posts didn't bother her. But it did bother her when word started spreading around the UA campus.

"If anything, it was embarrassing," she says.

Nearly a month after the photos were first posted on thedirty.com, one of Hamill's professors learned about the pictures--and at that point, she took action. As thedirty.com's popularity has increased--leading to a spate of recent media coverage--controversies surrounding the site have also been on the rise. Three days after pictures of six Arizona State University cheerleaders wearing lingerie surfaced on thedirty.com, the university announced, on May 1, that it was eliminating the cheerleading program in favor of something called "Sparky's Crew," a unified, more family-friendly spirit squad.

Richie responded with a petition-like effort to reinstate the cheerleading team, claiming he received an e-mail from ASU vice president of university athletics Lisa Love that cited the pictures as a factor in the decision to disband the cheerleading team.

Doug Tammaro, the media relations director at ASU, says Love sent no such e-mail, and claims Richie made it up. (Love was unavailable for comment.) Tammaro says the process for creating "Sparky's Crew" dates back at least two years, adding that tryouts for the new spirit squad are open to everyone--even the disbanded cheerleading team.

The ASU cheerleaders and Hamill have learned that personal privacy is becoming an oxymoron in today's technologically advanced world.

"It's like, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,' doesn't exist anymore," says Neville Johnson, a founding partner of the law firm Johnson and Johnson, LLP, located in Los Angeles.

Johnson describes the appearance of sites such as thedirty.com as a new phenomenon that blurs the line between what is considered private and what isn't. Johnson says that in a closed room, privacy is expected; privacy in a nightclub, however, is more difficult to determine. Richie--a pseudonym--and thedirty.com claim that in a nightclub, there's no expectation of privacy, period. On Oct. 31, 2007--eight months after the creation of the site--thedirty.com refused a woman's photo-removal request. Thedirty.com's "legal counsel," with the supposed name of Kochran Kardashian, asserted that privacy does not extend to photos captured in public places, including bars and nightclubs. The site also claims that looking at the camera equates to giving consent. The woman's picture still remains posted on the Web site.

"I'm not out to ruin people's lives," Richie told the Weekly. "It's more about the comedy."

Richie says he created the site in March 2007 to pass the time in his cubicle while working. Richie says he hopes thedirty.com will act as a type of National Enquirer or Star that doesn't focus on the same celebrities--and instead targets "random people." That's not to say thedirty.com ignores all celebrities; a report on the site that Terrell Owens was appearing in a porn movie led to legal threats from the Dallas Cowboys star, and pictures of a partying Matt Leinart got the Arizona Cardinals quarterback in trouble with his coach. "It still blows my mind what the site has become," he says. "The demand for it is so high." The site now covers 24 U.S. cities/regions and 24 college campuses (including the UA), as well as nine cities outside of the United States. According to compete.com, an Internet-analytics Web site, an estimated 34,627 people viewed thedirty.com in March, an 84 percent increase over February.

Richie hopes to integrate social networking into the Web site, allowing users to create profiles. The goal is to expand the "dirty army," the group of people who submit photos and leave comments.

Richie emphasizes the site isn't about his personal gain, but is rather about the stories of the people on it.

As for Hamill, after she typed up a letter detailing the situation and sent it to Richie--claiming the photos were up for long enough and asking him to take them down, while remaining polite and interjecting a few compliments about the site--the photos were removed.

Hamill still has no idea who sent the pictures to Richie, but she assumes someone went through her Facebook profile and downloaded the pictures.

"I've always been good about censoring myself when posting pictures," she says, "but since then, I've taken a lot more steps to make sure things are more private."

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