This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (312-226-4236). . The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.

Social Networking:

Not As Private As You Might Think

In this and future columns, we will review privacy questions as they relate to social networking and their impact on business, employment and litigation issues.

Many of us believe we can limit the amount of information about ourselves that is publicly available on the Internet. The use of privacy settings on social networking web sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and LinkedIn may provide users a false sense of security about what information can be shielded from public view. Setting your account to “private” may make you feel as though your Internet activity is protected. However, in reality, if you use social networking websites, there is likely some information about you available to the public, probably more than you realize.

Impact of Social Networking

Social networking websites have quickly become popular and widely-used forms of communication. They provide a way for users to communicate with friends, keep in contact with old acquaintances, meet new people, and share information among groups. However, there are impacts beyond social that can have business, employment and litigation consequences greater than what may have been contemplated. Next month, we will review some of the legal, business and litigation issues.
Facebook and Privacy

Through its privacy options, Facebook allows you to make most of the information you share private, but the user must decide what level of privacy to attach. You can choose to share information with the public, with all of your “friends,” or with certain people but not others.

However, even when a user sets Facebook’s privacy settings to the most restrictive settings available, the public can still see certain information such as that user’s name, profile pictures, gender, username and ID number, and even comments made on public websites through a Facebook plug-in.

In addition, comments you leave on other people’s status updates, as well as photos, links, videos or other information that you send to friends or post to your friends’ profile pages may also be available to the public regardless of your own privacy settings. Information may also be available if a friend has “tagged” you in a photograph or status update.

While you have the ability to control most of the information made public on your particular user profile through your privacy settings, so do your friends. Once you send it, the information you post or send to your friends is no longer subject to your own privacy settings. Rather, whether the information you send to a friend using Facebook is publicly available is controlled by your friend’s privacy settings. In fact, the information you send to friends may remain publicly available even after you delete your account. In sum, do not expect content that is about you, but controlled by someone else, to remain private.

Beyond information that is publicly available, equally concerning is the amount of information that social networking sites collect about you. Facebook can record and access all of the information you share on Facebook, regardless of your privacy settings. Facebook’s data use policy explicitly states, “we receive data about you whenever you interact with Facebook.”

The way Facebook makes money is by selling advertising. It collects information about its users, then uses that data to sell “targeted ads,” or customized ads based on users’ perceived interests. According to Facebook, “we use the information we receive about you in connection with the services and features we provide to you and other users like your friends, our partners, the advertisers that purchase ads on the site, and the developers that build the games, applications and websites you use.”

In essence, Facebook tells its users that it can use your personal information for any number of purposes as it sees fit.

If you have a Facebook account, Facebook is likely collecting information about you including your name, age, gender, e-mail address, photos or videos, tags, which profiles you look at, who you chat with using Facebook Messenger, which websites you visit, your relationship status, political affiliation, IP address, GPS location, browser type, operating system, user ID number and user name.

In fact, Facebook may receive more information than you ever realized you were providing. For example, Facebook’s Data Use Policy states, “when you post things like photos or videos on Facebook, we may receive additional related data (or metadata), such as the time, date, and place you took the photo or video.”

The Facebook Data Use Policy also provides, “we receive information about you from your friends and others, such as when they upload your contact information, post a photo of you, tag you in a photo or status update, or at a location, or add you to a group.”

Social media sites also receives data from the computer, mobile phone or other device you use to access the site, including your IP address, the browser you use, the pages you visit, and even your GPS location.

In the last few years, concerns over social media privacy have increasingly crept into the legal setting. However, courts have generally held that social media users do not have an expectation of privacy. Courts have found that users should be aware the information they post is not confidential because the privacy policies inform users that information may become publicly available.

Courts rely on these privacy policies despite the fact that very few users actually read them. Privacy policies and data use policies are often difficult to locate on a web site, and most of these policies are even more difficult to read and understand once a user finds them.

The best advice to social media users can be found on Facebook’s own website: “Always think before you post, especially because information you share on Facebook can be copied or re-shared by anyone who can see it.”

By: Martin Healy, Jr.

Patrick C. Anderson