Courts Disagree on Expectation of Privacy Regarding Social Media
If you want to know anything about privacy laws, Kashmir Hill from Forbes is your gal. She writes a whole column on it and earlier this week she wrote an interesting piece about two Facebook privacy cases with two very different results.
Both cases involved a person with a Facebook account who was suing a company for something totally unrelated to social media. In California, an artist sued an apparel company for putting his designs on items they hadn’t agreed on, like maybe condoms. Lawyers for the company asked for access to all of the artist’s Facebook and MySpace updates, obviously hoping to catch him saying he was thrilled about being featured on a condom, or something like that.
A federal judge said that request violated the 1986 (?!?) electronic communications law and as long as the artist’s wall page was sent to friends only, then those posts were private and couldn’t be used by the defendant to make their case.
Then we go to New York, where a judge used the same law to back up his decision to force a women to turn over all of her social media posts, including those marked private. The woman claimed she was injured when falling from a defective chair, but the chair manufacturer said, but look at how happy she is on Facebook!
Remember that story that went around last year or so about the woman on medical leave for depression who had her insurance cut off because of party photos on her Facebook?
Looks like we still have a ways to go for the laws to catch up to technology, but what’s to be done in the meantime? I know we’re always preaching that an effective social media strategy involves becoming “friends” with your customers, but sharing stories about a drunken binge or a gambling spree in Vegas, might not be the best way to rack up sales, even if you do work for a liquor company.
The lesson here is that a little paranoia is a good thing. Look at your own personal Facebook account – would it be detrimental to your company if what you posted there was made public? Friends only box checked or not, nothing is private on the internet. Just keep that in mind the next time you’re thinking of mixing social media business with pleasure.