By Gina F. Rubel
Special to the Legal
As a follow-up to my last blog, Five Tips to Consider for Enforceable Website Terms of Service, I decided to dive into privacy policies that seem to be the subject of many legal headlines these days.
- In 2012, Google settled with the Federal Trade Commission for $22.5 million for placing cookies on Safari users’ computers, despite having previously told these users they would be opted out of such tracking.
- Facebook has been ordered to submit to privacy audits for the next 20 years for telling consumers they could keep information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be made public.
According to the attorneys at Griesing Law, while smaller companies may assume privacy-related lawsuits have little to do with them, the reality is that privacy is receiving increased regulatory scrutiny in our digital age. Across industries, companies of any size with a web or mobile app presence need to be aware of the latest enforcement actions and regulations in this space. Companies that do not comply with the law, that fail to follow their own privacy policies, or that lack the appropriate policies altogether may find themselves facing costly litigation or fines, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
One indicator of the government’s increased interest in privacy is that the White House named its first Internet privacy officer, Nicole Wong, who has been serving as Twitter’s legal director. While government attention was previously trained on Internet giants, the FTC is now expanding its focus. Mobile apps in particular often permit access to sensitive personal information, including name, email address and location data. And since many start-ups have capitalized on apps in recent years that trade on such personal information, smaller companies may now face more regulatory scrutiny than in the past.
- Photo-sharing app company Path landed in trouble when a developer noticed that the app was collecting certain user information without users’ permission. While the app seemed to give consumers the option to “find friends” through either a contact list, Facebook or by invitation, it automatically collected and stored personal data from users’ contact lists even when “find friends from your contacts” was not selected. Path was hit with an $800,000 fine by the FTC .
These lawsuits illustrate the need for businesses of all sizes to be diligent in evaluating the privacy implications of new services that collect user information. To avoid liability, business owners should ensure that their policies remain in compliance with both state and federal laws, which are ever-evolving.
Gina F. Rubel is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., an integrated marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing. She and her agency have won national awards for law firm marketing, PR, website and graphic design, social media, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com and is a contributor to The Legal Intelligencer Blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. Find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ginafuriarubel or follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ginarubel. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.