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Facebook Sued for Privacy Violation

A photographer, an actress, a college student and two minors filed suit against Facebook on Monday, alleging that the site violates state privacy law and misleads members into believing that the information that they post can be accessed only by designated "friends" and not third parties, reports the Associated Press. Plaintiffs also claim that Facebook engages in data mining of members' information without fully disclosing those practices. Legal Newsline notes that the Facebook lawsuit was filed by famed Texas trial lawyer Mark Lanier, best known for his involvement in Vioxx litigation, not to mention his firm's lavish holiday parties.

Experts don't expect the suit to get very far, characterizing it as either a "kitchen sink" approach (TechCrunch) or a "jumbled mess" (Professor Eric Goldman, as quoted at CNET). As Larry Magid explains on CNET, the plaintiffs seem to have raised every possible issue in the hopes that one would stick, because the suit has so little merit. As TechCrunch describes, the suit essentially complains "about many of the very mechanisms that make Facebook a social network."

Plaintiffs in the case appear to have engaged in run of the mill socializing on Facebook: sharing photos, writing status updates and similar things. They're then complaining that privacy, copyright and other rights are violated as people look at the photos, read the updates, etc. It's sort of like jumping into a pool and then complaining that you're wet.

For example, one of the privacy violations concerns a status posting by an 11-year-old boy sharing that he had contracted the swine flu. When the boy's parents learned that he had a Facebook account, they removed the "medical condition positing" but "have been unable to learn whether the information has been stored or disseminated by Facebook. Another user who started with Facebook in college now complains about modifications of the terms of service over the years, which is fairly common as sites evolve. Moreover, as Magid points out, the user could simply close her account if she's unhappy with how the site works.

TechCrunch and Magid also argue that Facebook's terms of service give users more control over content depending upon which privacy settings they apply. The solution to the complaints is for users to learn how to use Facebook properly, rather than to file a suit that, if successful, could make Facebook more onerous for the majority of users.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 19, 2009 at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)


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