Sunday, March 13, 2005

And now - MIT's freshman decisions get (almost) 'hacked'

At around 1 AM India time today, someone on the MIT forum on College Confidential posted a way to list the names/cities of all international admitted students to MIT class of 2009. It was trivial, and all it involved was putting in MIT's reference number, shipment date and zip code on DHL's tracking site.

Many people followed the steps and presto - before them appeared the list of all international students accepted to MIT!!

This was unethical without doubt, and the worst part was, that people were posting names of accepted students on CC, and the MIT shipment reference number and other steps were posted on Matt McGann and Ben Jones' blogs (both official admissions information blogs).

Matt McGann acted farily quickly, deleting the post and adding a blog entry about how unethical it was. First, many people reported the thread to CC's moderators; but the thread was not deleted even after an hour. By 2 or 3 AM, close to a thousand people had seen the thread. Of course the damage was done, but to prevent further damage, we decided upon a strategy. We started bumping old threads frantically so as to get the "forbidden" thread off the first page (so far fewer people would look at it).

However, just when the thread was going to get off the page, someone posted a message on it, and it got bumped up to the top! Back to square one, we started again. This bumping frenzy continued up until now (4 AM). The thread was finally off the first page, and then a good person gave the CC mods a call to alert them. The thread is now gone.

This development has raised a lot of issues about the ethics of finding out decisions before time (especially in light of the recent ApplyYourself hack). It is perfectly fine to find out your decision (many people did that mere hours after the letters were mailed, by calling DHL to find out if there was any packet for them from zip code 02139). MIT sent notification via DHL to international students who got admitted, on Friday, March 11th 2005.

However, to access a list of all admitted students worldwide is gross. I'll have more to talk about it later.

For now, I may mention that I was much too scared to call DHL earlier, and still am to look at the list...