Online information privacy is a hot topic these days.
Everywhere you turn there is another story about a corporate giant like Google or Facebook having done something that violates their users' privacy rights or put personal information in jeopardy.
But how do information privacy concerns impact the average small business owner or online publisher? Unfortunately, the issue isn't entirely clear. Information privacy is still a murky legal topic, primarily because the laws involving online privacy are still in their infancy and the legal community is struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of advancement in Internet technology.
A recent legal case involving the online home data publisher Blockshopper sheds a sliver of light on the issue and may indicate where the legal community is headed. Here's what you need to know about the Blockshopper case and how it could impact the content you post online.
Blockshopper v. Jones Day
Blockshopper is an online real estate data provider, a web publisher that routinely publishes publicly available real estate data. Jones Day, a legal firm, filed a lawsuit against Blockshopper to block the publisher from posting hyperlinks to the biographies of firm partners and associates on the Jones Day website. Although the suit didn't address Blockshopper's use of the names and addresses of real estate buyers and sellers, it centered around privacy issues and the question of whether or not Jones Day had a reasonable right to prevent links to its unique content.
The resolution of the case was unsatisfying for privacy rights advocates (and web publishers) because it sidestepped the privacy question entirely. Instead, the case was resolved on the issue of trademark infringement. But despite its tepid handling of privacy issues, there are at least two questions web publishers should take away from the case.
Questions for Web Publishers
- Are websites public or private? The prevailing wave of opinion is that the Internet is a public place and websites (by nature) are public vehicles. The question is whether or not hyperlinks represent an invasion of privacy, particularly when they are used to bolster the image of the publisher using someone else's unique content.
- What are the ramifications of online privacy? The Blockshopper case boiled down to the fact that Jones Day couldn't prosecute their argument based on privacy because a privacy-based ruling would negatively impact their corporate clients, many of whom engaged in similar online behavior. Web publishers and privacy advocates need to ask questions about the impact privacy could have on their clients and their own business before they wade too deeply into the waters of online privacy.