Report Finds that Facebook’s Privacy Policy Breaches European Law

Facebook

We frequently post on social media issues, including issues pertaining to Facebook. As we recently reported, an article authored by our editor, Jim Dedman, was recently published in the January 2016 edition of The Inside Scoop, the newsletter of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Corporate Counsel section.

But we’ve got more news on this front.

Facebook is apparently in the news again for legal reasons following “[a] report commissioned by the Belgian privacy commission [that] as found that Facebook is acting in violation of European law, despite updating its privacy policy.” The study at issue was conducted by the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT at the University of Leuven in Belgium. The report “claimed that Facebook’s privacy policy update in January had only expanded older policy and practices, and found that it still violates European consumer protection law.” Specifically, a number of provisions in the new privacy policy still fail to comply with the Unfair Contract Terms Directive in a number of ways, including but not limited to:

  • Placing too much burden on Facebook users to navigate Facebook’s “complex web of settings in search of potential opt-outs”
  • Providing no mechanism by which users can stop Facebook from collecting location information on users via its smartphone app besides stopping location access on the phone via the mobile operating system
  • Offering no choice regarding the user’s appearance in “sponsored stories” or sharing of data pertaining to location.

Facebook has apparently met with Bart Tommelein, the Belgian privacy minister, to discuss the issues raised in the report, and to convey its position that its new privacy policy does not violate any laws.  Facebook is supposedly being investigated by various other European nations for various privacy infractions as well.

Utah Federal Court Explains The Nature Of Facebook

Leave it to the courts to explain to us the nature of social media. Let’s take a look at the very, very recent Larada Scis., Inc. v. Skinner, No. 2:15-CV-0399-JNP, 2015 WL 7768836 (D. Utah Dec. 2, 2015), a patent case. The court was called upon to undertake a personal jurisdiction analysis and analyze the website of one of the defendants. The question was whether the Picky Pam website evidence purposeful availment of the forum, and the court analyze the purported interactive nature of the website at issue in its analysis. It’s an interesting – and brand new – opinion on this issue, but we just wanted to point to the paragraph in which the court explains to the reader the nature of Facebook:

 . . . [M]aintaining an interactive website is no longer the sole purview of corporations. In fact, with the invention of social media, many individuals, to say nothing of organizations, maintain an interactive website. In a matter of minutes, an individual can create a Facebook account and upload content to his or her own “Facebook page.” That page may allow all other Facebook users to interact with it. The level of interactivity on even the most basic Facebook page arguably exceeds that of even the most interactive website in 1997 . . . . It is difficult to envision a website that is more interactive than the average Facebook page. Indeed, a principal purpose of social media is to facilitate interactions between users.

See id. at *4 (footnotes omitted).

It’s always fun when federal courts attempt to explain the phenomena of social media. Of course, some explanation is required in a jurisdictional opinion (and the court was analyzing a framework established by a 1997 Pennsylvania opinion). But, in this day in age, we all know of Facebook, and by its very nature, it is interactive, as the court does note.

Oh, well.

Facebook Lacks Standing To Challenge Subpoenas For User Info, Says New York Appellate Court

Here we go again. Another privacy-related Facebook legal issue has arisen.

Facebook

In a disability fraud case in New York, in which “more than 130 police officers and other public workers in New York City whose disability claims allegedly conflicted with information about life activities on their Facebook accounts,” Facebook has reportedly been told by a New York appellate court that it lacks standing to challenge subpoenas for the users’ personal information. Although Facebook has produced the information as ordered, it does not plan to give up on the issue. In fact, according to Bloomberg, Facebook released the following statement:

We continue to believe that overly broad search warrants—granting the government the ability to keep hundreds of people’s account information indefinitely—are unconstitutional and raise important concerns about the privacy of people’s online information.

Apparently, Facebook has not decided whether to appeal the ruling further.

How much information does Facebook maintain on its users, anyway?  According to a Forbes article from several years ago, the answer is A LOT. The personal data stored by Facebook includes everything from “every person who has ever poked you” to “a list of the machines that [the user] has used Facebook from, how often [the user] has signed in from the machine, as well as a list of all the other Facebookers who have logged in on that machine.” An exemplar full report discussed by the Forbes article was over 800 pages long.

If you are curious about how to download all of your Facebook data, Facebook tells you how to do so here:

Download facebook data

This information, of course, can be helpful to lawyers when fashioning interrogatories and requests for production of documents pertaining to Facebook data. As you may recall, we at Abnormal Use have covered many Facebook-related legal topics in the past, which can be accessed here.

Washington Court Of Appeals Rejects Argument That Facebook Post Not Authentic

Rarely do we write about criminal cases on this site, but we did feel it appropriate to mention a new case in which the defendant challenged his burglary and assault convictions, in part, on the grounds that his lawyer did not object to the admission of certain Facebook posts into evidence. State v. Fawver, No. 32271-8-III (Wash. Ct. App. June 9, 2015 (unpublished).

The facts were these:

The incident in question arose after Mr. Fawver was forcefully thrown out of a New Year’s Party at the residence of Christopher Pierce in Deer Park. Pierce punched and pushed Fawver out of the event in the early hours of January 1, 2013. Fawver left on foot and texted a friend that he had been “jumped” at the party.
Three friends arrived in a truck to pick up Fawver; they were followed in another car by two other men. The six men drove in the two vehicles back to Pierce’s residence, arriving around 3:00 a.m. Several of the men, armed with baseball bats, entered the residence and a melee ensued. Many of the partygoers fought back against the invaders. Two of them identified Fawver as being among the group wielding baseball bats.

A detective later found a Facebook post on the page of one “Corey Fawner” in which the owner of the account posted the following status update: “Wow What a fun Night ppl [people] in dp [Deer Park] are not bad as they think they are.” The defendant was, of course, convicted.

On appeal, the defendant raised the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to object to the Facebook post.

Finding the the defendant’s argument that the Facebook post was not properly authenticated to be “questionable,” the court noted as follows:

There are at least as many ways to try a case as there are trial attorneys. Skilled counsel often do not raise objections to the form in which otherwise admissible evidence is entered. In most instances, it will be nigh impossible to establish that counsel erred by failing to make an objection that, if successfully lodged, would simply require the opposing party to offer the evidence in a different manner. That is the situation here. Mr. Fawver does not argue that the posting could never be authenticated; he only argues that this authentication was inadequate. Under the circumstances, it is doubtful that counsel’s decision to not object was such an egregious decision that it constitutes a failure to live up to the standards of the profession.
Nonetheless, even if this type of behavior could constitute error under Strickland, it does not do so here. Mr. Fawver has identified no Washington authority, nor have we, that sets forth authentication requirements for Facebook postings. On that basis alone, it is difficult to conclude that counsel erred since there is no governing authority to establish a failure to adhere to professional norms.

However, the court also went to some length to describe how the Facebook post, or “screen-grab” as it called it, was authenticated:

Given the unique comment posted so close in time to the assault, the fact that a friend of Mr. Fawver recognized it as his Facebook page, the name on the post matched Mr. Corey Fawver’s name, the picture was identified as the picture of Mr. Fawver, and the fact that Facebook is widely known to generally be password protected, the Facebook post appears to have been properly authenticated.

Keep that in mind, folks. Most of those authentication components would be the same regardless of whether the evidence was digital in nature. The circumstances surrounding the post, the manner in which the detective was led to it, and the facts contained therein all served to authenticate it.

Remember that when you’re litigating these issues in civil cases.

 

North Carolina Court Of Appeals Matter-Of-Factly Cites Litigant’s Facebook Profile In Factual Background Section Of Opinion

Here’s something interesting.

In the factual and procedural background section of a recent opinoin, the North Carolina Court of Appeals cites to a litigant’s Facebook profile to introduce him in that section. See Staton v. Josey Lumber Co., Inc., No. COA14–1001 (N.C. Ct. App. May 5, 2015).

It’s a workers compensation case, and the claimant “injured his left leg and foot when he fell off scaffolding while welding.” The North Carolina Industial Commission found that it had no jurisdiction to hear his claim because it determined he was an independent contractor and not an employee. The claimant appealed this finding, although the court of appeals affirmed.

In the second paragraph of the factual background section (and the fifth paragraph of the opinion), the court of appeals noted:

Staton called himself a contractor on his Facebook page. He stated that “[m]ost everyone knows I’m a welder. I travel alot chasing jobs. I do shutdown work. That is when a company takes off a week or so and contractors go in and fix whatever is broke.”

The court of appeals quoted this language again in the analysis section of the opinion.

So, here, we’re not dealing with spoliation or impeachment or any of the usual issues when social media is involved in litigation. It offers no citations or footnotes to justify some type of novel citation to new social media technology.

Rather, the Court of Appeals matter-of -factly quotes the litigant’s Facebook profile (just like it would any other statement or document).

How about that?

Private Message or Process Server – Service Through Facebook?

Revolutions have started through the use of it.

Marriages have started through the use of it.

Opinions (informed and uninformed) are shared on it.

So why should a lawsuit not start through its use?

What is it? Why Facebook and potentially other social media platforms, of course. In a recent divorce case, Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku (2015 NY Slip Op 25096, Mar. 27, 2015), the New York County Supreme Court permitted a wife to serve her husband solely with a summons via private message to the husband’s account on Facebook.  While recognizing that Facebook is not a statutorily permitted method of service, the Court asked and answered several relevant questions in making its way to its conclusion that service in this fashion was proper.

The Court first asked whether the standard form of personal service was at all possible. It reasoned that since the couple had never resided together, the last known address the wife had for the husband was from an apartment he left in 2011, and the husband told her he had no fixed address or employment, it was an impossibility to personally serve the husband.

The Court next had the wife show that statutorily permissible “substitute service” of serving on someone of suitable age and discretion or through “nail and mail” would also be unavailable under the circumstances.  The Court quickly rejected the possibility of substitute service since such service is premised upon knowledge of the husband’s actual place of business or home address.

The Court further insisted that the wife demonstrate that sending the summons through Facebook would be a way to reasonably expect he would receive actual notice. The Court noted that whether the method used would comport with due process was the “ultimately determinative” factor.

To ensure that the Court’s order was constitutionally reasonable, the Court required the wife to submit a supplemental affidavit verifying the husband’s Facebook account, including copies of exchanges between the husband and wife on Facebook and the identification of husband in certain photographs. The wife’s affidavit also showed that husband regularly logged into the account.  Finally, the Court determined that service by publication would be useless and costly in these circumstances, finding that publication was almost guaranteed not to provide husband with notice of the action.

The Court concluded that the wife’s attorney would log into her account, message the husband by first identifying himself, and either include an image of the summons or a hyperlink to the summons.  Additionally, the attorney would have to repeat the message once each week for three weeks or until husband acknowledged service, and after the initial transmittal, the wife and the attorney would have to call and text message the husband to inform him of the Facebook message.

Baidoo is not the only case to contemplate service by Facebook.  But could service by Facebook extend outside of cases for divorce or between individuals?

Just two years before Baidoo, the Federal Trade Commission, in alleging “that the defendants operated a scheme that tricked American consumers into spending money to fix non-existent problems with their computers,” requested leave to serve five India-based companies by means of both email and Facebook.  F.T.C. v. PCCare247 Inc., No. 12 CIV. 7189 PAE (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2013).  While the Court noted that Facebook and email were not within the scope of Article 10 of the Hague Convention on Service, it also noted that India had not objected to the use of Facebook and email as a means of service such that the Court could authorize service by those means. In turn, the Court found that the FTC’s proposal to serve defendants by both email and Facebook satisfied due process, stating that “[w]here defendants run an online business, communicate with customers via email, and advertise their business on their Facebook pages, service by email and Facebook together presents a means highly likely to reach defendants.” This holding was followed several months later in F.T.C. v. Pecon Software Ltd., No. 12 CIV. 7186 PAE (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 7, 2013).

Given these cases and the fact that the cost of publication is increasing while the likelihood of notice by publication is decreasing, service only by Facebook on even corporate defendants could be a thing of the relatively short-term future. However, given the effort that must be exerted before a court will permit such service, it will likely be a long time before service by Facebook on either individual or corporate defendants is something that is commonplace. While there may be a shot for Facebook, a search of service by other social media platforms, including Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, has not produced any results to date.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire Reminds Us How Facebook Works

So, it’s 2015, so we’re not sure that a court needs to dedicate a section of an opinion to “Explanation of Facebook Technology Relevant to this Case.”

In February, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire did just that in an appeal arising from the defendant’s convictions for stalking and witness tampering.

In its opinion, the court noted as follows:

Facebook is a widely-used social media website, available for free to anyone with an e-mail account, whose stated mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Facebook and other social media sites are becoming the dominant mode of communicating directly with others, exceeding e-mail usage in 2009. With over one billion active users, Facebook is revolutionizing the way people behave and interact with one another in their everyday lives through site functions that facilitate sharing information, such as a user’s “profile page,” the ability to send personal messages to other users, and by allowing users to become “Facebook friends” with other users.

A profile page is a webpage that is intended to convey information about the user. By default, Facebook profile pages are public. When a user shares something publicly, anyone including people off of Facebook can see it. Alternatively, Facebook users can restrict access to their Facebook content using Facebook’s customizable privacy settings. Access can be limited to the user’s Facebook friends, to particular groups or individuals, or to just the user.

State v. Craig, No. 2013-229 (N.H. Feb. 12, 2015) (quotations and citations omitted).

We’ve deleted the citations, but we note that the court cited to law review articles and quoted from Facebooks pages directly.

But are these basic principles really so novel that they need to be stated and then supported with citations? If the authority the court is citing indicates that Facebook has one billion active users and that social media usage has surpassed email as a communications medium, isn’t it a familiar enough phenomena in society to go without saying? Can’t the court simply jump to the discussion of the relevant Facebook usage facts without pausing to remind us how it works? Do the terms profile page and Facebook friends really need to be in quotation marks at this point?

Court of Appeals Puts Unnecessary Quotation Marks Around “Facebook”

Okay, so we don’t usually write about family law cases here at Abnormal Use, and it’s been a while since we wrote about events from the state of Nebraska. Yesterday, while perusing cases mentioning Facebook, we stumbled across In re Interest of A.W. & L.W., No. A-13-540 (Neb. Ct. App. Feb. 25, 2014), a recent case in which the court of appeals found “that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that termination of [the father’s] parental rights was warranted pursuant to [the relevant statute] and that termination was in [the children’s] best interests.” Yes, this is a case involving a father’s appeal of the trial court’s termination of his parental rights and the appellate court that affirmed that decision.

Chiefly, the case concerns the frequency of the father’s contacts with his children – or the lack thereof. This being the modern age, some of those contacts occurred via social media. Here’s some excerpts from the opinion itself:

After moving to Las Vegas, [the father] claimed that he attempted to maintain contact with his children through his uncle’s “Facebook” account. However, according to [the father], 2 weeks after he moved, [the mother] learned that [the father] had been using the uncle’s “Facebook” account and blocked the uncle from her and the children’s “Facebook” accounts. [The father] made no other attempts to contact his children during the time that he resided in Las Vegas until he moved to Larchwood, Iowa, in 2012, at which point he had two visits with his children: a 2–hour supervised visit on March 31, 2012, and a 1 1/2–hour therapeutic visit on January 4, 2013, supervised by [another adult]. [The father] did not see his children after the January 4 visit, despite his requests to have visits.

[The father] claimed that he did not contact his children while he was in Las Vegas after [the mother] blocked his uncle’s “Facebook” account because he thought that [the mother] had a protection order against him and he would have to contact his children through her. During the time that [the father] was in Las Vegas, [the mother] did not receive any communications from [the father], his friends, or relatives regarding arranging visitation with the children, even though [the father] had [the mother’s] e-mail address which was known to [the father] prior to his move to Las Vegas and remained the same. Further, [the father] did not send the children any letters, cards, or presents during that timeframe.

[The father] first contends that the county court erred in finding that he had abandoned his children pursuant to § 43–292(1). He contends that he did not abandon his children for the relevant 6 months immediately prior to [the mother’s] filing of the complaint for modification, which requested termination of his parental rights, because he continued to pay child support and attempted to contact his children through “Facebook” during that 6–month time period.

[The father] admits his efforts at maintaining contact with his children from November 2010 until March 2012 were minimal. He testified that he attempted to contact [the children] through his uncle’s “Facebook” account for about 2 weeks after moving to Las Vegas, but then he claimed that [the mother] discovered he was using the “Facebook” account and blocked his uncle from her account and the children’s accounts. [The father] admits that after the initial 2 weeks that he was in Las Vegas, he did not contact the children but claimed that he did not make additional attempts to contact his children for 1 year because he believed that [the mother] had a protection order filed against him.

Nothing extraordinary there, right? Certainly, it’s not unusual for references to Facebook to make their way into litigation, particularly family law cases, where the parent’s everyday decisions and lifestyle may be at issue. Most of us communicate using the Internet generally, or social media specifically, and a case analyzing one’s communications will likely stray into Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

But here’s the thing: It’s 2014. Why is the court of appeals placing scare quotes around the word Facebook? Isn’t Facebook such a prevalent and prominent website that we can now refer to it without quotation marks? By our count, the court mentions Facebook seven times in the opinion, and each time it does so, it places unnecessary quotation marks around the company name. Why?

Juror’s Facebook Comments “Not Prejudicial” To Defendant in Washington Med Mal Action

Another trial, another juror posting comments about same on Facebook.

This time, it’s Figueroa v. High Line Medical Center, No. 68272-5-I (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 14, 2013), a medical malpractice case (the basic facts of which are not important to the Facebook issue). Whatever the facts, the jury found for the plaintiff, and the doctor appealed on a number of issues.

One of his points of error was jury misconduct.  The relevant portion of the opinion reads:

Dr. Ryan argues that the court erred in not granting a new trial because of alleged juror and attorney misconduct. Dr. Ryan further argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a new trial after a juror posted comments regarding the case on Facebook. A juror’s communication with a third party about a case constitutes misconduct.The trial court may grant a new trial only where such juror misconduct has prejudiced the defendant.

Here, no such prejudice was shown. The juror’s comments were limited and innocuous. They were nothing more than a description of the juror’s day interspersed with the following related comments on her jury duty:

• Spent the day in Superior Court doing my civic duty. On jury duty for next 2 weeks.

• Day 3 of jury duty. Very difficult to listen to a translator during the questioning. I can pick out some words.

• Day 4 of jury duty, off on Friday, and back to the jury on Monday. Hope to finish by noon on Thursday. It’s been interesting. Love the 1 1/2 hour lunches.

• My civic duty, jury duty ended today with a negligent claim on the doctor. This was tough to decided $s to the plaintiffs. Mentally exhausting!

While it was inappropriate for the juror to post anything on Facebook regarding the case, these comments were not prejudicial to Dr. Ryan.

(Citations and quotations omitted).

Sure, the status updates were probably harmless, and his only substantive remark referred to the verdict itself, after it had been rendered. However, it seems that the jury’s conduct was almost certainly violative of whatever instructions the judge may have given to the jurors prior to the institution of the trial. Oh, well.

Flexing Free Speech Rights With Your Index Finger – The Fourth Circuit and Facebook

Recently, our own Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals considered the First Amendment in the context of 21st century technology.  As you likely know all too well, Facebook has invaded most areas of our lives – it seems only appropriate that it envelop our jurisprudence, as well. As reported by The Washington Post, the Fourth Circuit has held that by clicking the “Like” button on a Facebook post a person is exercising his or her First Amendment rights. The case is Bland v. Roberts, — F. 3d —, No. 12-1671 (4th Cir. Sept. 18, 2013) [PDF].

The facts of the case are straightforward, but they inspire some good old fashioned eye rolling.  A Hampton, Virginia sheriff’s deputy was fired after he clicked “Like” on the Facebook campaign page of the candidate running against his boss.  [Sidenote:  Why would you do that?  This is a clear violation of the “silly plaintiff” rule.  But we digress.]  The fired employee, Daniel Ray Carter, sued, saying that he was fired for exercising his free speech rights.  The federal district court granted summary judgment against Carter on the grounds that clicking “Like” was not an actual statement, and thus, it did not rise to the level of protected speech. Both Facebook and the ACLU filed amicus briefs in which they disagreed with the district court.  The Fourth Circuit overruled the district court, and we believe rightly so.  Judge Traxler, writing the opinion, likened the “Like” to a political sign posted in a front yard.  Did Carter have the right to display a yard sign of his boss’s opponent on his front lawn?  Yes.  [Is it a good idea?  Different question.]  In our opinion, the district court not only got it wrong, but very wrong.  First Amendment jurisprudence makes it abundantly clear that non-verbal “speech” is protected.  The district court seems to have stepped back in time, forgetting some important precedent.

The Washington Post also had a nice article preceding the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, highlighting other disputes that have arisen from the use of social media in the workplace.  You can find that story here.

Do you “Like” the Court’s opinion?  What implications do you think it will have going forward?  Remember, the related issue of an employer’s ability to force employees to give up Facebook passwords is also still hanging out there.  A U.S. News report from April 2013 on that subject, outlining the lawsuits and proposed legislation, can be found here.