Protecting your Privacy Online

Online networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook and Linked have hundreds of millions of active users who are empowered to be worldwide publishers through the posting of comments, photographs, personal profiles and private information about not only themselves but also others.  These publications have significantly increased cyber-stalking, harassment, identify theft, defamation, interference with business and professional opportunities, and even worse, data mining by vendors who sell or provide free, databases of personal information about individuals. 

PRIVACY POLICY

If you want information removed according to privacy internet law, the first thing to do is read the web site’s Privacy Policy or Terms of Use (TOU) to understand:

  1. How to contact the web site provider;
  2. What information to include with your request; and
  3. Include a printed copy of the materials on the web site that you are requesting to be removed along with the URL address of the content.  You can do this by selecting “print” from the web page when you are viewing the information.

Some online data vendors will request information from you (such as your Social Security number or date of birth) to process a request.  However, you need to decide whether you want to provide sensitive information.  And, you may not want to provide the data vendor with any information that they do not already have.  If you choose not to provide all of the information, you may want to include a short statement indicating why you have not included the information.

In addition, some web site providers might indicate that they will not remove data from public records – birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, marriage certificates, property listings, lawsuit filings and criminal records.  Keep in mind that public records can contain errors – your name was confused with someone else or the current status of your case is not included.  The web site provider or online information broker will not correct such errors.  More than likely, they will instruct you to correct errors with the government entity responsible for the record.

DIGITAL MILLENIUM COPYRIGHT ACT

If a web site receives uploaded content by others, has message boards, a guestbook, a chat area, or any other place that a visitor could post content, then the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) should be considered as an option to remove the content.  For example, you might want to assert that the posted content constitutes defamation, cyber-bulling or contains other offensive material and demand that it be removed.  In addition, if the posted material includes potential copyright material (e.g., a picture or video of you posted without your permission), then you can demand removal of the material that appears to constitute online copyright infringement.  In order to have this information removed, you’ll need to write a letter to the web site provider’s DMCA agent.  Your letter should include:

  1. A physical or digital signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the online copyrights or other intellectual property interest;
  2. A description of the copyrighted work or other intellectual property that you claim has been infringed;
  3. A description of where the material that you claim is infringing is located on the web site – usually the print out of the material with the URL headings will suffice;
  4. Your address, telephone number, and email address;
  5. A statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright or intellectual property owner, its agent, or the law;
  6. A statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your letter is accurate and that you are the copyright or intellectual property owner or authorized to act on the copyright or intellectual property owner's behalf.

CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS

While consumer protection laws are somewhat vague, the following material or personal information should be removed by a web site provider:

  1. Content subject to subpoenas, court orders or another legal process.  Provide a copy of the relevant document in your letter to the web site provider. 
  2. You are a victim of identity theft.  Provide a copy of the police report or bank or credit card provider documenting the identity theft.  Note:  you may want to redact some information.  For example, black out any financial data and/or account numbers.
  3. You are a state, local or federal law enforcement officer or public official and your position exposes you to a threat of death or serious bodily harm.  Provide a copy of document identifying you as an officer or public official such as a letter from a supervisor.
  4. You are at risk of physical harm.  Provide a copy of a letter from a social worker, shelter administrator or health care provider.

FTC COMPLAINT

And, if all else fails in the removal of the information from the web site, then you can consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you do not want public, publicly-available and non-public information available on the Internet.  To do so, go to the FTC's home page at www.ftc.gov and click the link in the upper navigation bar for File a Complaint.

If you are concerned about online publication of personal information or if you are unable to get content removed from a web site, then follow up with a qualified attorney to discuss some of the methods above as well as other considerations to help you with computer internet law.

The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only. If you need legal assistance for an intellectual property issue, consult with Bambi Walters, or an Intellectual Property Lawyer near you to discuss the details of your case.
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