After years of water cooler whispering (with raised eyebrows) and urban legends of terminated employees, savvy Internet users know not to have any realistic expectation of privacy when it comes to work-hosted email, Internet access and the like.

Is there now cause for concern when it comes to discussing work-related topics on employees’ own time on personally owned computers? The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey is taking up the case right now.

In Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group, Docket No. 2:06-cv-05754 (D.N.J. 2008), the plaintiffs allege that their use of MySpace is protected from their employer’s prying eyes. The plaintiffs, Brian Pietrylo and Doreen Marino were terminated by Hillstone, which operates the Houston’s chain of restaurants.

Pietrylo, a bartender at Houston’s in Hackensack, New Jersey, created the MySpace user group “Spec-Tator” for the purpose of current and former employees to “vent” about their experience while working at the restaurant. Allegedly, the user group was created on personal time, and invitations were distributed on personal time. According to Pietrylo, the forum was a "nice place to vent … without any eyes outside spying on us."

Continue Reading Privacy in Work-Related Matters Discussed in Social Networking Sites

As with NebuAd here in the United States, the Phorm service in Europe is under constant and increasing attack.  The business model for both is basically to team up with Internet service providers, track and collect Internet usage data, and then use that information to serve interest-based ads to the Internet user.  Take a trip to a popular gadget web site, and expect to be served advertisements that offer gadgets for sale.  Visit a travel interest web site, and expect to start noticing advertisements from travel sites in other web pages. 

Announcing that the European Union has "opened an infringement proceeding" to investigate Phorm’s activities, the European Union’s Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, said in a video message that "European privacy rules are crystal clear: a person’s information can only be used with their prior consent. We cannot give up this basic principle, and have all our exchanges monitored, surveyed and stored in exchange for a promise of ‘more relevant’ advertising! I will not shy away from taking action where an EU country falls short of this duty."

The legal action commenced by the European Union basically consists of an inquiry and warning to Britain, inquiring into Britain’s interpretation of the privacy regulations and rules in place, and an explanation of how operations by Phorm comply with those privacy regulations and rules.  In other words, the European Union wants Britain to explain why it has not commenced any action against Phorm.  Britain has two months to respond, and additional inquiries and warnings may follow before the European Union forces Britain into court.

Continue Reading European Union Seeks Privacy Enforcement By Britain

A young woman in Coalinga, California, following a visit home from college, penned to her MySpace page “An ode to Coalinga” (the “Ode”).  The Ode opens with “the older I get, the more I realize how much I despise Coalinga” and then proceeds to make a number of extremely negative comments about Coalinga and its residents.  She removed the Ode from her MySpace page within six days of posting it.

However, during the six days that the Ode was posted on MySpace, the principal of Coalinga high school discovered the Ode and sent it to his friend, the editor of the local paper, the Coalinga Record.

The editor of the Coalinga Record republished the Ode as a “Letter to the Editor,” adding the author’s last name (which was not present on the MySpace page).  The author and her family received death threats, and a shot was fired at the family home, forcing the family to move out of Coalinga.  Due to severe losses, her father closed the 20-year-old family business.

The California Court of Appeal, in Moreno et al. v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc., et al., F054138, slip op. (Cal. Ct. App. April 2, 2009) (PDF link) ruled that the principal did not invade the author’s privacy when he handed it over to the Coalinga Record.  The court further held that the editor of the Coalinga Record did not violate the author’s rights when it published her full name.

Continue Reading Published on MySpace Means No Expectation of Privacy