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    Chicago Reader: Classmates.com brings public attention to private messages and broken hearts

    Chicago Reader takes a look at the publication of old yearbooks, along with the scrawls inside to the original yearbook owner from his or her friends.

    This is going to be very hard to write now, and after what was said last night you probably don’t even want me to write anything.

    So began a painstakingly composed yearbook inscription written about half a century ago by a graduating high school senior to the boy she was saying good-bye to [Jim]. It was for his eyes only. But today, to the astonishment of that author, it’s posted online at the website classmates.com, where any of us may pay to violate her privacy by reading it.

    Classmates has decided to traffic in nostalgia, but it traffics carelessly. Nostalgia is as friendly and caressing an emotion as we know, which is why it’s eagerly shared and easily turned into money. But nestled among the golden oldies of our collective memories is the jagged residue of love, longing, and loss. These are the complicated and eternally painful memories that are no one’s business but our own. […]

    Classmates is scanning old yearbooks and posting them online for paying members. […] How Classmates got hold of these books isn’t clear. Jim’s sister tells me the books wound up in their mom’s basement, and when she moved to assisted living four years ago and the house was sold, an auctioneer sold off the contents nobody wanted. Jim didn’t want his high school and college yearbooks, and they sold for $30. […]

    On its website, Classmates has posted a 5,200-word privacy policy that asserts its commitment “to protecting the privacy of our members’ personal information.” […]

    Classmates tells me it’s aware there could be problems. “When someone notifies us that they are not comfortable with having a yearbook up on our site that contains notes that either they wrote to someone else or that someone else wrote to them, we immediately take the yearbook off the site,” said the company spokesman. “If we can digitally remove notes/comments in question without affecting the integrity of the book, we do so, and repost the book to our site. If we cannot remove the notes/comments while maintaining the integrity of the book, we remove the book from the site permanently.”

    In other words, we put it up and if someone complains we take it down.

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