Let me get one thing straight before I go any further. I am a caring father of four, the youngest of which is just 7 years old. If any of them were abducted, I would do everything in my power to find them. Just like any caring father.
Certainly the search for missing Madeleine McCann has been spearheaded by just such a caring parental unit, and my heart goes out to them.
However, while the use of the Internet has been a core component in keeping the publicity going and ensuring that as many people as possible are aware that a little girl is missing, one does have to ask when does care and concern cross the line and become an intrusion of privacy.
I am not talking about the despicable websites which have spawned all over the place using misspellings and similar sounding domains in order to put up a picture of the little girl and then flood the rest of the page with money earning advertising. Any such an attempt to cash in on the heartache of the McCann family in this way, carving off a bit of the hundreds of millions of hits that the official Find Madeleine site has received, is deserving of a beating with a big stick.
But what about when an ISP uses your personal email messages to further that search, without actually asking you first?
That’s exactly what one concerned chap in the UK asked me this week. The proud grandfather of a newly delivered grandson, he did the natural thing and sent a photo and some information about the baby boy to a number of friends using a BCC list. He was not expecting to see the following underneath his own private message in the copy that came back to him:
Special message from TalkTalk - Please help in the search for Madeleine McCann
Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann, has devised an email poster as she fears that Madeleine may have been taken to Spain where the girl's disappearance has generated less attention.
You can download the poster from here
Anyone with information should contact the Portuguese police direct on 00 351 282 405 400 (international call rates apply) or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
The question here is not whether this is a good cause, there is no denying that, but rather if the ISP concerned had the right to attach what is essentially an advert to the private email of its members without even consulting them about it.
It’s not as if it is some free webmail thing, this chap pays for his account and was rightly disturbed at extra messages being sent with his mail in this way. What worries me, it has to be said, is who decides what a good cause is? Who determines the justification for interfering with the private email of an individual in this way? What if a message was at direct odds to your personal, ethical, religious beliefs? What about the legal impact upon your business if your ISP started attaching its own marketing messages to your email? OK, that’s unlikely to happen you may think, but then I would have thought it unlikely for this particular incident to occur as well.
Surely it would be enough for TalkTalk to leave the appeal on its website, which is fair enough and nobody could argue about that. By adding the same message, without consent, to everyone’s email messages, is TalkTalk not guilty of spamming?
The emotiveness of the missing Madeleine story threatens to cloud what is, I feel, something of an important point of principle here: that private email should remain just that.
I would be hugely interested to know if Grandad and I are alone in our concerns.
What do you think?
Please do visit the official Find Madeleine website and help in the search for this missing little girl in any way that you can.