Thursday, May 6, 2010

EFF Seeks to Protect Innovation for Social Network Users

Saw this on the DataPortability Blog.....


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal judge to dismiss Facebook's claims that criminal law is violated when its users opt for an add-on service that helps them aggregate their information from a variety of social networking sites.

Power Ventures makes a web-based tool that users can set up to log into their multiple social networking accounts and aggregate messages, friend lists, and other data so they can see all the information in one place. In a lawsuit against Power Ventures, Facebook claims that Power's tool violates criminal law because Facebook's terms of service ban users from accessing their information through "automatic means." By using Power's tool, Facebook argues that its users are accessing Facebook "without permission" under the California penal code. EFF argues in an amicus brief filed Monday that users have the right to choose how they access their data, and turning any violation of terms of use into a criminal law violation would leave millions of Facebook users unwittingly vulnerable to prosecution.

"California's computer crime law is aimed at penalizing computer trespassers," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Users who choose to give their usernames and passwords to aggregators like Power Ventures are not trespassing. Under Facebook's theory, millions of Californians who disregard or don't read terms of service on the websites they visit could face criminal liability. Also, any Internet company could use this argument as a hammer to prevent its users from easily leaving the service as well as to shut down innovators and competitors."

Even the simple use of the automatic login feature of most browsers would constitute a violation under Facebook's theory, since those services are "automatic means" for logging in. But the risk for users is even broader. If any violation of terms of use is criminal, users who shave a few years off their age in their profile, claim to be single when they are married, or change jobs or addresses without updating Facebook right away would also have violated the criminal law.

"The information you put into social networking sites is yours, and you should be able to access it, export it, and aggregate it as you please," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "If Facebook's legal argument is upheld, it will hobble companies that enable consumer choice, as well a create a massive expansion in the scope of California criminal law."

For the full amicus brief:


Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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