Social websites can easily backfire

For the London Free Press – August 6, 2007

Read this on Canoe

Beware of what you post online — you never know who is looking.

In what is being described as the first Canadian case that refers to MySpace, an Ontario judge stated that a defendant was free to use the MySpace pages of a plaintiff to cross examine the plaintiff at trial.

In this case, the plaintiff alleged she sustained serious and permanent physical injuries as well as emotional and psychological trauma in a motor vehicle accident. To be successful in the case, she had to show that she had sustained a permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.

After discoveries, but before trial, the defendant found the plaintiff’s MySpace page, which, among other things, had pictures of her skiing in the Swiss Alps after the accident. The defendant no doubt took delight in finding this and being able to use it to cross examine the plaintiff to cast doubt on the severity of the injuries.

The rise of blogging and social network websites such as MySpace and Facebook has made personal information about individuals all the more accessible. Individuals join these social networking groups with good intentions to meet new friends, maintain on-going friendships or rekindle old ones. They post private information, pictures and messages in the spirit of being social.

Many users treat these sites similar to personal conversations with close friends. While there is some ability to restrict access by everyone, the reality is that they are conversing with the world and preserved in the Internet forever.

When individuals post this personal data, they tend to forget how broadly that information is available.

Anyone wanting to know something about an individual for any legitimate reason should take advantage of this. It might be a personal injury case such as this one, or to check out a job applicant, or a contractor you wish to hire to do a particular job.

The tools to use include search engines such as Google, personal data aggregation sites such as Zoominfo, and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

Some caution is required though. Stick to publicly available information. Don’t hack into places meant to be private. Don’t resort to “pretexting,” or pretending to be the person you’re interested in, to get information. It’s also possible you could be accused of discrimination if a decision not to hire someone is based on information you’re not supposed to use.

And individuals posting information about themselves on the Internet should be mindful that it may be viewed by a wide audience. The immediacy of the Internet is one of its advantages, but also eliminates any time we might have to reflect on the appropriateness of our postings.

That comment or photo that may seem innocuous at the time may come back to haunt you. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is little use as a defence or explanation later.

BlawgWorld 2007 now available

Technolawyer – a technology information service for lawyers – is publishing an ebook today called BlawgWorld 2007 with TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide. BlawgWorld 2007 contains “thought-provoking essays from 77 of the most influential blawgs”, including eLegal Canton. My blog was also included in the 2006 edition.

According to the press release “BlawgWorld 2007 features a remarkable collection of essays from the legal blogosphere and the 2007 TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide offers a new way for law firms to find answers to management and technology questions.”

The 2006 edition was downloaded 45,000 times.

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The ultimate in transparency – put your life online to prove your innocence

This month’s Wired magazine has an article entitled The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online. Its about an artist who found himself wrongly on the terrorist watch list. So to prove his innocence he started to put every moment of his life online, down to every purchase he makes and his location at all times.

As Wired puts it: Elahi’s site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both.

He says I’ve discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away. I submit that he is not protecting his privacy, he’s really giving up his privacy to protect himself against being wrongfully accused. Its interesting food for thought though, and worth a read.

Read the Wired article

Bloggers risk the sack, says survey

That’s the title of an article in the latest newsletter of out-law.com, a publication of the UK law firm, Pinsent Masons. It says that: “Of those [employees] who keep a blog, 39% admitted that they had posted details which could be potentially sensitive or damaging about their place of work, employer or a colleague.” Those types of remarks can lead to discipline, or even termination.

The informality of blogs, as is often the case with new communications media, lulls people into a false sense of security. People often forget the rules, and do or say things that they would never put in a letter, for example.

The article has links to other material on corporate blogging from a UK legal perspective.

Read the article

Apple stock rollercoaster based on faked email

Apple’s stock dropped temporarily yesterday in high volume trading based on the publication of an internal email saying that the launch of the iPhone and Mac OS X Leopard were both being delayed by several months. 23 minutes after that hit the stock markets, there was another email from Apple saying that the first one was fake, did not come from Apple, and that the launches are on schedule.

It will be interesting to find out who was behind that, why, and how they were able to fake it.

This shows the danger of relying on such information without corroboration and the speed at which it disseminates, but also the speed at which false things get corrected.

Read the emails themselves and some commentary at:

Infectious Greed by Paul Kedrosky

GigaOm

New look for eLegal blog

My blog has been changed to a completely new look. The old version has served well for 2 ½ years – but it was time for a change. Why? Several reasons.

The previous look had a lot going on, not unlike many other blogs. That suits the traditional blog reader well, but may be overwhelming or confusing to those new to blogs. While I’m glad to have anyone as a reader, my main target audience is clients, potential clients, and client influencers. Now that IE7 makes RSS feeds easier to use, more people will be introduced to blogs. The thought is that a cleaner, simpler look will be more attractive to those new readers.

If you look at some of the client comments in my profile, there is a common theme of giving practical advice in a field of complex, changing legal issues. The cleaner, simpler look of the blog is consistent with that approach.

The change also provides on a more consistent look and feel for my eLegal brand, powered by Harrison Pensa, across different platforms.

The new look moved the blog roll, archive lists and other links to a second page. While it takes an extra click to get to them, I think the tradeoff is worth it. Check out the blog list at the “weblinks” link. The list has been updated to include blogs I follow that I think my readers would find interesting.

I guess I was 91st on their list

I disconnected from the blogosphere over Christmas, so missed the kerfuffle over Microsoft’s delivery of 90 computers loaded with Vista to selected blogers.

The reason, of course, was to get some publicity about Vista.

Many have commented about the ethics of this. I tend to side with the view that this is more about disclosure than anything. If one comments on something they received for free, or is being paid to adopt a position on something, be up front about it.

Vendor product giveaways for reviews and publicity is hardly a novel concept.

Microsoft is one of those successful corporations that some will bash regardless of what they do. Its important to look at issues like this based on the facts – not one’s inherent bias. (And yes, that’s often easier said than done.)

Take a look at Dave Taylor’s piece on this which has links to various comments, via Techmeme

2006 CLawBies – thanks to Steve Matthews

I’m back in the office after a Christmas break, and am pleasantly surprised to see that my blog has been recognized by the Vancouver Law Librarian blog as a runner up for the Best Practitioner Support Blog in the 2006 CLawBies – Canada Law Blog Awards

The winner in the category was David Fraser’s Canadian Privacy Law Blog. Congrats to David Fraser.

Take a look at the 2006 CLawBies

How to get RSS feeds in Internet Explorer 7

I have commented before that blogs and RSS feeds are about to hit the mainstream as IE7 has a built in RSS reader. Until now, a 3rd party plug in was required to do that. Setting up RSS feeds in IE7 is simple. Here’s how.

Go to a blog that you want to follow, such as mine at www.canton.elegal.ca

There is an RSS symbol in the upper right of Explorer that looks like this:

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If it is orange, there is an RSS feed on that page.

Click on that logo – then click on “subscribe to this feed” that appears near the top of the content.

Click on “subscribe” in the box that comes up, and you are done.

To view new entries in the blogs you have subscribed to, click on the star symbol at the top left of Explorer, then on the blog you want to look at.

If you don’t have IE7 yet, just run windows update.

Digg inundation

Digg is one of the many blogs I monitor – but I’m considering deleting it from my RSS list.

Why? There are just too many entries. Even though I look at my blog feeds daily the sheer number of Digg posts take too long to get through. On many days I just ignore the Digg posts because I don’t have time.

To me, there are 2 basic types of blogs. First is the niche blog that has a few posts by an author. The second is an aggregator that pulls various items together in one place. The aggregator blog loses its appeal if it has too much content – and perhaps is not doing a good enough job at filtering them…