Businesses that wish to take advantage of the social media space in their marketing strategies should be aware of recent developments in the courts with regards to the privacy and confidentiality in online sites. In these cases, unsuspecting site users have had their private conversations violated by site owners, who furthered their own interests by passing along valuable user information, navigation habits etc. to outside marketers.
In March of this year, judgment was handed down in the Facebook privacy lawsuit – the “Beacon Settlement,” in which user information was leaked to advertisers via banner ads – which resulted in Facebook being levied a $9.5 million fine. Furthermore, the court stipulated that Facebook set aside $6 million for the purpose of setting up a foundation, to be headed by a three-person board, tasked with ensuring the privacy of information for Facebook users.
It would appear that the online privacy issues have been resolved with social media users free to Twitter and post at will without fear of private conversations being violated.
However, the judgment which was levied down brings with it its own liabilities. The Facebook privacy foundation will be helmed by Tim Sparapani, the current Facebook director of public policy, which has led critics to call this a conflict of interests. In fact Ginger McCall, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed an appeal in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court, calling the settlement “deficient and illusory.”
In addition, lawsuits have been filed against social media networking sites MySpace and Google Buzz for similar lapses in user privacy. MySpace applications – including TagMe, GreenSpot and RockYou Pets – have allegedly been passing user information to its advertisers.
Buzz – Google’s social networking service – has been charged with passing along personal information that might be held in a user’s Gmail account, making it public, and releasing what was confidential information if users did not specifically change the default settings. Google was recently forced to pay $8.5 million in damages.
Critics like McCall have lampooned the courts decisions, saying the penalty award amounts are misleading with only a small percentage of the damages go to the individual users who filed the lawsuits with the bulk going toward watchdog foundations.
Google admitted the February launch of Buzz was premature. But critics knew about these allegations beforehand and called Google out on its services deficiencies, but they continued with the launch anyway. This brings into question the security of social media more than ever. It is one thing when sites are passing consumer information to advertisers, but it is quite another when the safety of your confidential and personal information is jeopardized.
Even though a precedent has stemmed from these cases, McCall and others are left unsatisfied, even with millions of dollars made in settlements. They wish to go further and set additional legal precedents that will protect the privacy of social network users by having the site that violates those laws face serious penalties.
Buzzphoria believe that companies must carefully monitor where and when their messages appear online. We adhere strictly to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s (WOMMA) Code of Ethics along with those set fourth by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as well as our own sense of keeping our clients’ best interests in mind.