Facebook Settles and Lipstick Alley Is Sued as Privacy and Free Speech Remain in the Spotlight

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How do privacy and free speech affect business today? Obviously, the need to respect customer privacy online has become an important issue for all businesses, but some feel regulations like the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) may force businesses to police their customers, violating rather than protecting that privacy. The same regulations and other hindrances to free speech online may restrict the operations of businesses and limit competition if improperly used. We’ll look at some of the issues impacting privacy and free speech on the Internet today.

Protecting Privacy

Facebook users turn anti-social. The social network is paying $10 million to settle a suit brought by users who complain Facebook publicized their “likes” of certain advertisers in a “sponsored stories” feature without compensation or notification. Getting social engagement on your site is one thing, but be sure your customers know what you’re doing before you share any information about them. Reuters

You have the right to remain private. Stakeholders including consumer groups, advertisers, and Internet companies have been asked to give input into a data transparency code of conduct ahead of a July 12 meeting, beginning discussions on a proposed US “Privacy Bill of Rights” with a focus first on mobile apps. The regulations are likely to have an affect on the online business community. ZDNet

A hand in the cookie jar. European officials are beginning to implement rules for how online businesses may use cookies to track site visitors, a move critics say will damage online business in Europe, especially online retail. Cookies used to target advertising to visitors based on their online behavior will require visitor permission to deploy. Targeted advertising is a major component of online business, especially for smaller site operators. Inc.com

Let Your Business Speak

Lipstick on a pig. Film actor Chris Evans’ attorney tries to dress up a suit against the online forum Lipstick Alley as a defense of his client’s publicity rights and against a “fraudulent” and “intentional” user-generated post on the forum referring to a celebrity gossip blog about Chris. But critics argue the suit is really an attempt at limiting the forum’s freedom of speech and could have broader implications if attorneys continue to file such claims against Website operators. TechDirt

Talking about speech. Some small business owners may have difficulty connecting free speech to business. Here Josh King, vice president of business development and general counsel at Avvo, a site providing a health and legal Q&A forum and directory of doctors and lawyers in the US, explains how those wanting to silence speech use endless legal challenges to do so, and how this can ultimately hurt any company. Gigaom

The battle of Pirate Bay. Many business owners who depend upon quality content as part of their product or service may sympathize with efforts to protect intellectual property online, but censorship like the recent UK court decision used to target magnet-link sharing site The Pirate Bay has other implications. An important side of the story to remember is that any Website might someday be a target of such court orders, with little recourse left to site owners. C|NET

Acting Up Over ACTA

Don’t send flowers. The rumors of ACTA’s death have been somewhat exaggerated. Though some key committees and elected officials are clearly against it, the final vote is coming. The Web is buzzing with concern over the implications to online business and other freedoms and the damage to online privacy. Some of the greatest worries are about how intellectual property owners could use legal means to strong arm smaller site owners with questionable infringement claims. TechDirt

Too close for comfort. Those worried that ACTA will benefit a few large, intellectual property owners at the expense of online business freedom are biting their nails and sitting on the edges of their seats as the final vote approaches on ACTA. Despite plenty of opposition, here is how things stand with a vote that may be closer than expected. EUObserver.com

Bad for business. One can get a better understanding of how ACTA might adversely impact business in general by looking at some reports, as formal opposition to the treaty emerged near the end of last month. Specifically critics worry the treaty doesn’t adequately balance intellectual property rights against other issues, like business freedom, protection of personal data, and the freedom to receive or provide information. IT World

Infringement Morphes into Speech Issue

Legally binding. An attorney is suing cartoonist Matthew Inman, founder of The Oatmeal, and two charities over a donation Inman plans to make to them in lieu of a demand for damages. The legal troubles started when the cartoonist complained about another site stealing his content and monetizing it for their own benefit. As a small business owner, you may want to call out competitors from time to time. First, learn more about the lawyer your competitor employs. The Washington Post

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  1. I don’t want to sound too pessimistic but I think Facebook is slowly going the MySpace route. They’re the epitome of social networking one minute and becomes an online jungle the next. The site’s top brass should put a stop to these issues or else it will suffer its predecessor’s fate.

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