Facebook has made almost daily splashes in the news lately, particularly in the realm of litigation. As the law struggles to keep up with changing technology, Facebook - more than any other social network or tech entity - seems to be at the forefront of every new legal decision being issued. Here are a few recent decisions worth noting:
- On April 7, 2015, A New York federal court recently ruled that AMC Networks, Inc., the cable network behind such hit shows as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad (a/k/a the greatest show ever made) and Mad Men, did not violate a federal privacy law by sharing information about her visits to AMC's website with Facebook. The plaintiff, a 62 year-old Californian (presumably not the type from the SNL sketch), alleged that AMC violated the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act by disclosing her Facebook ID and titles of clips she viewed on AMC's website to Facebook. The court ruled that plaintiff was not a "subscriber" to AMC's website under the meaning of the law. In essence, the ruling allows Facebook to track the viewing habits of people on other websites it does not control. You can read the full decision here.
- The AMC decision was issued just a few days after a California federal dismissed a privacy lawsuit brought by viewers against Hulu's online television service. Just like in AMC, the plaintiffs alleged that Hulu wrongfully disclosed their video viewing selections and personal information to Facebook. The court found that plaintiffs had not established that Facebook connected their identifying information with the title of videos watched. You can read that decision here.
- On April 6, 2015, a NY nurse got a Manhattan Supreme Court judge's permission to serve her husband with divorce papers through a private Facebook message once a week for 3 straight weeks or until her husband "acknowledged" it. Her husband was a drifter with no fixed address or employment. Facebook was essentially the only way she could reach him. The judge ruled that her Facebook message should either link to the website where the divorce summons can be seen or attach an image of the summons to the message. While these are certainly special circumstances, this should be seen as a landmark case that will pave the way for more decisions like it. If anything, the case is truly emblematic of the way people can get divorced (or at least initiate a divorce) today. It also mirrors the New York decision from last year where a Staten Island judge gave a man permission to serve child support papers to his ex-wife via Facebook. Still, it should come as no surprise that the deadbeat husband hasn't responded to the Facebook message yet.
- Finally, on April 1, 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Facebook, alleging that the social network's facial recognition technology violates Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008. The technology allows Facebook to collect users' facial data, and amass it in a huge database. Kind of like all those "life histories" that Scientology keeps on its members. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook did not obtain written consent from users before collecting their facial data and failed to notify them about how long their information would be kept. Facebook has not responded to the complaint yet, so stay tuned.
- John Hammerle