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Ex-girlfriend’s Phony Facebook Page Tests NJ Identity... Yesterday New Jersey Superior Court Judge David Ironson refused to dismiss an indictment charging a woman with identity theft for allegedly adversely impersonating her ex-boyfriend...

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The Center for Democracy and Technology Defends Mobile... Last week the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) made a public appeal to gain support for their campaign to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act’s (ECPA)...

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Canadian Supreme Court Protects Free Speech on the... This month the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling that protects Website owners who provide hyperlinks to allegedly defamatory content from liability. The facts of the...

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NJ State Senator Will Introduce Online Gambling Legislation... In March Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state in the country to allow online gambling within its borders. He vetoed the law...

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Federal Shield Law in the Senate Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws. Shield laws are important because they safeguard the public's right to know by protecting the rights of...

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Social Media Law News Rss

EMT Fired Over Facebook Post

Posted on : 09-11-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Online Privacy, Social Media Policies

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Although it is important for companies to implement social media policies, companies must think about social media in the same context as other forms of communication and regulate accordingly. This seems to be where the ambulance service, American Medical Response of Connecticut (AMRC), went wrong. Their social media policy allegedly bars employees from making disparaging comments about AMRC or its employees and prohibits employees from commenting about AMRC in any way over the Internet without permission. Now the legality of that policy is being tested.

AMRC fired Dawnmarie Souza, a union paramedic, after she wrote offensive comments about her supervisor on Facebook. While there are conflicting reports about the facts leading up to the Facebook post, it appears that Souza was required to write a response to a customer complaint, but was denied union representation by her supervisor. Then, according to a National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) press release, “Later that day from her home computer, the employee posted a negative remark about the supervisor on her personal Facebook page, which drew supportive responses from her co-workers, and led to further negative comments about the supervisor from the employee.” According to Steven Greenhouse’s article, Company Accused of Firing Over Facebook Post, Jonathan Kreisberg, director of NLRB’s Hartford office disclosed that Souza’s negative comments consisted of vulgarities and she wrote, “‘love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor’ — 17 is the company’s lingo for a psychiatric patient.”

Coming to Souza’s defense, the NLRB filed a complaint against AMRC for violating Souza’s federally protected workplace rights. Under The National Labor Relations Act employers are prohibited from interfering with an employee’s rights to organize for collective bargaining purposes, or to engage in protected concerted activities, or refrain from any such activity. Here, the NLRB, concluded that Souza’s Facebook postings were “protected concerted activity,” and AMRC’s blogging and Internet posting policies were “overly broad,” and unlawfully limited employees’ rights to discuss working conditions among themselves.

AMRC, in contrast, claims that the NLRB’s allegations are completely unfounded. According to Courtney Rubin’s article, Labor Board Backs Workers’ Right to Bad-mouth Bosses Online, AMRC said in a statement: “Although the NLRB’s press release made it sound as if the employee was discharged solely due to negative comments posted on Facebook, the termination decision was actually based on multiple, serious issues.” Additionally, AMRC argues that the offensive Facebook post was not concerted activity protected under federal law. An administrative law judge is scheduled to begin hearing the case on January 25.

Although this case is groundbreaking because it is the first time the NLRB has publicly defended an employee involved in a social media policy dispute, Lafe Solomon, NLRB’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.” It is important to note that Souza was interacting with co-workers. Had she been venting to non-employees, the court would be less likely to find that Souza was participating in “concerted protected activity.”

Prudent employers should read about this case and create social media polcies based on traditional labor laws or review existing policies and make necessary adjustments to ensure it does not ‘reasonably tend to chill employees’” exercise of federally protected rights to discuss wages, working conditions and unionization.

To learn more about this case please read the following articles:

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Facebook Trademark Troubles

Posted on : 01-09-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz

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Although the name “Facebook” enjoys trademark protection, the company is aggressively maintaining that they own the rights to the words “face” and “book” as well. Earlier this month the travel site, PlaceBook, changed its name to TripTrace to avoid an expensive lawsuit they could not afford. The company even published a blog acknowledging that, “as a start-up we were in no position to fight. So we changed our name.”

Then Facebook filed suit against Teachbook.com, an online community for teachers, for “misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of Facebook’s trademark.” Although it is unlikely that people will confuse Teachbook with Facebook, Facebook argues that the use of the word “book” dilutes Facebook’s brand name and impairs their ability to remain unique. In the complaint Facebook asserts, “If others could freely use ‘generic plus BOOK’ marks for online networking services targeted to that particular generic category of individuals, the suffix BOOK could become a generic term for ‘online community/networking services’ or ‘social networking services.’ That would dilute the distinctiveness of the Facebook mark, impairing its ability to function as unique and distinctive identifiers of Facebook’s goods and services.”

If this case ever makes it to court, Facebook may have a hard time proving its case because “book” is a common word and because Teachbook is not a direct competitor. Realistically, it is unlikely that this case will ever see the inside of a court room as Teachbook does not have the substantial financial recourses available to Facebook.  It is more likely that Teachbook will follow in the footsteps of Placebook and change its name. According to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, in the article, Facebook Sues To Bar the Use of ‘Book’ in Site’s Name,It’s important to Facebook that people get the sense that it’s very dangerous to infringe on Facebook’s name. This lawsuit scares other companies from going down the same path.” This is further evidenced by Facebook’s request to the court to declare Teachbook’s trademark void and ban the site from using the name.

It is not just the word “book” that Facebook is trying to claim a right to. Currently, Facebook is trying to trademark the word “face.” But a familiar rival is objecting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmate, who claimed to help create Facebook, and later settled the claim, Aaron Greenspan now owns Think Computer, which is behind the mobile payments application FaceCash. Erick Schonfeld’s quotes Greenspan in his article Guess Who Is Trying To Trademark The Word “Face”? (And Guess Who Is Trying To Stop It?), “The possible registration has implications for my company (not to mention hundreds of others, including Apple, Inc. [which owns the trademark to “Facetime,” the video calling feature on the iPhone 4.]), so I’ve decided to ask the USPTO for an extension of time to oppose it.”  Although Greenspan says he hasn’t decided whether he will file a formal opposition, he has filed two extensions that give him until September 22 to formally oppose Facebook’s “face” trademark application. The original deadline was June 23. However, taking into account Greenspan’s history of vigorously defending his trademarks, it is not likely that he will back down. As these are common and generic words that Facebook only uses in combination with each other, it  is not likely that Facebook will be awarded the rights to “book,” or “face.”

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Is a Colombian Drug Cartel on Facebook?

Posted on : 27-08-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Online Safety

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Facebook and similar social media websites have been used in the past by bullies and even terrorists to intimidate and terrorize their victims. Now, a Colombian drug cartel may be following suit. On August 15, 16-year-old Diego Ferney Jaramillo and 17-year-old Eibart Alejandro Ruiz Munoz were shot and killed while riding a motorcycle in southwestern Colombia. The next day a “hit list” containing the names of these two victims plus 67 other young men was published on Facebook.  According to Carl Franzen, author of 3 Colombian Teens on Facebook ‘Hit List’ Killed, the list, which has since been blocked by Facebook, came with a warning: “Get out of town within three days or suffer the same fate as the victims.”

Days later another “hit list” was posted; this time 31 women were named. In response Public Defender Volmar Perez called a Special Security Council to address the situation. Tragically, on first day of the council’s meeting, unidentified assailants gunned-down two others whose names were on the hit list. Nineteen-year-old Norbey Alexander Vargas was killed and 16-year-old Juan Pablo Zambrano Anacona was wounded.

Although the police have not released the names of anyone suspected of the killings or publishing the hit list itself, authorities admit that gang violence is common in Puerto Asis. Los Rastrojos, a criminal gang, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist guerrilla group, are present in the area. Moreover, Franzen reports that some of the victims allegedly had ties to members of drug gangs. Although Los Rastrojos has a history of making and following-through on death threats, the use of Facebook makes the case very unusual.

Authorities have posted a reward of 5 million pesos (around $2,750) for information about the kill list and the murders.

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Facebook Claims Law Suit for Ownership is Frivolous

Posted on : 14-07-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Government

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On June 30 Paul D. Ceglia filed suit against Facebook and it’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the Supreme Court of the State of New York claiming 84 percent ownership of the vast social networking site. In his complaint, Ceglia alleges that he signed a contract with Zuckerberg on April 28, 2003. Under the contract Ceglia agreed to pay Zuckerberg $1,000 to develop a website designed to offer Harvard students access to “a live functioning yearbook” with the working title “The Face Book.” In return Ceglia would receive 50% ownership in the business and an additional 1% per day after Jan 1, 2004 until the site launched. By the time the site went live on February 4, 2004, Ceglia would acquire an additional 34% interest in the business for a total of 84%.

Now, Ceglia alleges that Facebook is a continuum of “The Face Book” site and he is therefore entitled to 84% of the company, as well as 84% of “any and all monies realized by the Defendants from April 28th 2003 to the present time, along with the costs, disbursements, and attorney fees for this action.”

Although Ceglia offers a contract and a copy of the check as evidence, many of the dates in the contract seem to conflict with previous accounts of the creation of Facebook. Also, Ceglia may have some credibility issues.  “In 2009 New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a temporary restraining order against Ceglia’s company, Allegany Pellets, LLC. Cuomo claimed, “This company and its owners repeatedly lied to consumers and continued to solicit new orders despite an inability to deliver wood pellets that were bought and paid for months before the winter heating season began.” The restraining order said that Ceglia accepted more than $200,000 in advance payments from customers, and never delivered any products or issued any refunds to its customers.

Still, New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas Brown issued a temporary restraining order blocking Facebook from transferring assets; thereby preventing Facebook from raising revenue by transferring equity. In response, Facebook has moved to have the case dimissed as “frivolous,” “outlandish” and “almost certainly barred” by the statute of limitation.

To learn more about this law suit, please read the following articles:

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Facebook Admits they Missed the Mark

Posted on : 27-05-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Online Privacy

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Last month in my article Protecting Privacy From Facebook’s Innovative Plugins, I wrote about the privacy concerns surrounding Facebook’s new set of tools called social plugins that expand Facebook’s online social network to other Web sites.  In short, people were worried that users were automatically opted in to Facebook’s third-party site sharing, rather than having to deliberately opt in. Even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO and author of Zuckerberg: Facebook answers privacy concerns writes in his article, “Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex,” and “We just missed the mark.”

But Facebook is trying to change all that. Zuckerburg writes, “In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services.” Although users are pleased that Facebook is addressing their concerns, it could be too little to late in the eyes of the The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This summer the FTC hopes to release a set of “guiding principles” that outlines how businesses and specifically social networking sites should handle privacy issues. Only time will tell if Facebook’s adjustments will comply with those guidelines.

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Protecting Privacy From Facebook’s Innovative Plugins

Posted on : 30-04-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government

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Last week Facebook announced a new set of tools called social plugins that expand Facebook’s online social network to other Web sites. According to his blog, Answers to Your Questions on Personalized Web Tools, Facebook product manager, Austin Haugen says, “Social plugins are simple tools that can be ‘dropped’ into any website to provide people with personalized and social experiences.” More specifically Facebook now will provide its users, visiting certain partner sites, ratings based not only on the aggregate but also on what their friends have read or liked, such as a favorite songs or recently read news stories. While The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already been examining the privacy and data collection practices of Facebook and other social networks, Senator Chuck Schumer urged the FTC to examine Facebook’s recent changes for privacy concerns.

The main concern is that users have to opt out of the third-party site sharing, rather than having to opt in. According to Micael Liedtke’s article, Facebook’s Expansion Triggers Political Backlash, “[Senator] Schumer thinks the onus instead should be on Facebook to get users’ explicit consent, a process known as ‘opting in.’” In her article, How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization, Riva Richmond writes, “There has been some controversy about instant personalization, because Facebook has automatically opted in its more than 400 million users.” Moreover, if you decide to opt out, friends may still share public Facebook information about you unless you block each of their applications manually. Where once Facebook considered your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, Friends List, and all the pages you subscribe to as private information, now they consider it public. Because of this, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes in his article, Is the New Facebook a Deal With the Devil? that, “Facebook is a young company that’s proven willing to break its contract with users in the past (see Facebook’s Privacy Move Violates Contract With Users).”

Although, Facebook stresses that no personal information is being given to the dozens of websites using the new plug-ins, Facebook is indeed sharing some personal information with Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Corp.’s Docs.com hoping that they will demonstrate how Facebook’s new plugins can improve the social networking experience. In an attempt to protect Facebook and other social networking users, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working on drafting a set of “guiding principles” outlining how businesses should handle certain privacy issues. According to Angela Moscaritolo’s article, FTC Working on New Privacy Guidelines, “[B]y the end of the summer, the FTC hopes to release a set of best practices that outline how policies should be drafted, what type of content should be included in them, how they should be displayed to consumers and how organizations can best implement them.” Only time will tell if this political pressure will undermine Facebook’s attempt to create what it considers a more social, open Web.

If you want to learn more about Facebooks new plugins and how they work, please read Michael LaPeter’s article, New: Facebook Social Plugins. If you want to opt out of Facebook’s new plugins, please read Riva Richmond’s article, How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization.

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Facebook’s Safety Renovation

Posted on : 16-04-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Online Safety

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In the aftermath of the murder of Ashleigh Hall (a 17-year-old U.K. girl who was duped by a man who posed as a teenager on Facebook), and the suicide of Pheobe Prince after being subjected to relentless cyber-bullying, Facebook has overhauled its Safety Center.  The new Safety Center provides information for teens, parents, law enforcement officials, educators and general users to help protect themselves against sex offenders, scammers, bullies and other delinquents. Still some believe that Facebook needs to do more to keep its users safe.

This Monday, Jim Gamble, the head of Britain’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) met with Facebook executives in Washington to convince them to embed a “panic button” on every page to enable users to report disturbing contacts with a single click. Currently, Facebook has a “report abuse” button at the bottom left corner of each profile.

However, according to Vicki Barker’s article, Child Safety Group Fights For Facebook ‘Panic Button’, “Facebook . . . says it has experimented with a panic button similar to what the British child protection agency advocates, and found that reports of abuse did not rise but fell.” In fact, “Facebook says its existing monitoring system is constantly reviewed;” and “Incidents of bullying or approaches by pedophiles are extremely rare.” While Facebook has agreed to place a panic button on a page it had already set up for reporting abuse, the CEOP believes it is only effective if it is on every page.

In contrast, Larry Magid, author of Facebook rejects suggested ‘Panic Button’ for pages, questions the necessity and usefulness of putting a panic button on every page. According to Magid, “The number of young people who have been harmed by a stranger they met online is extremely low and, even in those few tragic cases, the victim has always willingly met up with the abuser. The Hall case is evidence of this as she clearly never suspected she was in any danger and therefore would not have used the panic button.

But what about Phoebe Prince and others subjected to the same kind of cyber-bulling? Magid believes that most cases of Internet “abuse” have more to do with problems in relationships than with crimes and are not issues for law enforcement. I have to respectfully disagree. Maybe if Prince had the ability to push a panic button, Facebook could have at least stopped her abusers from bullying her online. Now we will never know.

However, it does seem clear that a “panic button” alone is not going to stop abusers from using the Internet for their own twisted pleasure. Rather, a panic button in conjunction with appropriate supervision and education that teaches children and adults how to protect themselves from online abusers is likely to be the most beneficial for all social media users.

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O’Connor Online Civics Education

Posted on : 08-04-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Education

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Although former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is not on Facebook or Twitter, she wants to use her power and the power of the Internet to get young people interested in civics.  According to Christina Boyle’s article, Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wants to Bring Civics Education to Social Media, “O’Connor, who retired in 2006, said she knows young people are using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to swap political views — and the medium could be harnessed for other messages.”  Specifically O’Connor wants to leverage the medium to get students thinking, learning and engaging in civic life.  To this end O’Connor has teamed up with education and technology experts to launch ourcourts.org; a Web site about the court system, government and the rights and duties of citizenship.

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Watch Your Mouth!

Posted on : 08-04-2010 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Online Speech

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Do you sensor yourself when use social media? It is astonishing how many people don’t. According to Dustin Walker in his article, Price is High for Online Blunders, “Despite privacy warnings and embarrassing headlines, politicians, police officers and others who hold positions of authority will continue to tarnish their reputations online, social media experts predict.”

The ramifications for this kind of behavior can be devastating. The article, Professor Suspended After Joke About Killing Students on Facebook, details the stories of five people, including the professor, who were either not hired, suspended or fired after making inappropriate posts online. As online social networks change the method we use to communicate, we must adapt, and think before we speak.

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