Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yelp! Faces Federal Class Action Lawsuit

Bad online review? Interested in buying your way out of it?

Yelp is a popular interactive website allowing its users to create and access reviews of local businesses and services.  The site now faces serious accusations of unfair business practices.

After Yelp! received some bad press for what many believe to be shady advertising practices, a class action lawsuit was filed yesterday in a California federal court. According to a press release posted on the Yelp Class Action Website
"The lawsuit alleges that Yelp runs an extortion scheme in which the company’s employees call businesses demanding monthly payments, in the guise of 'advertising contracts,' in exchange for removing or modifying negative reviews appearing on the website."
I first learned of the lawsuit via this post by Bradford Schmidt.

Friday, February 19, 2010

School Faces Class Action Lawsuit for Secretly Spying on Kids at Home Via Remote-Controlled Webcams

Let's say a school administrator crawled into your kid's backpack to sneak into your home. 

Creepy McCreeperson?  A Pennsylvania family sure thought so when they experienced the functional equivalent.

The Robbins family filed a federal class action lawsuit against a school district after learning the district used a webcam in a school-issued laptop to secretly spy on their 15-year-old son when he was at home. They've sued for invasion of privacy under state law, violation of the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and violations of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Computer Fraud Abuse Act, Stored Communications Act, and the Fourth Amendment.

According to the complaint (which posted online), the school surreptitiously spied on students by remotely activating the webcams installed on the laptops the Lower Merion School District issued to them.

The family learned about the remote spying in November of 2009, when an assistant prinicipal told their son, Blake, that she believed he “was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the Webcam embedded in [his] personal laptop issued by the School District.”

The school posted a response on its website, essentially admitting the laptops' webcams can be remotely activated, but saying it was meant to be used for security purposes -- to track down a lost or stolen piece of equipment.

(Thanks to Bret D. for the tip on this story!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Update: One More Buzz Kill For Google This Week

Yesterday's post discussed the rough week Google has had since launching Google Buzz, its new social networking service offered through Gmail. 

Google's week just got a little bit worse.

This morning, news sources report that a federal class action lawsuit has been filed by a Florida woman in San Jose.  The complaint alleges Google illegally shared users' personal information via Google Buzz without their consent.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Privacy Concerns Are All the Buzz

Google jumped on the social media bandwagon, but it's not going as well as Google had hoped.

Last week, Google launched Google Buzz, a social media service built right into Gmail, Google’s webmail tool.

Cue: immediate backlash from many users and privacy experts alike.

Initially, Google Buzz auto-populated a social network for Gmail users based on a user’s frequent contacts, potentially revealing relationships the user would rather not publicly announce. Buzz also automatically linked up other Google services (Google Reader, for example).

In response to user privacy worries, Google announced changes to Buzz twice within the first four days of its launch.

Despite those changes, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission yesterday, for what it called unfair and deceptive trade practices. In its complaint, EPIC asks the FTC to investigate Google Buzz for business practices it believes “violated user privacy expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google’s own privacy policy, and may have also violated federal wiretap laws.” (In December, EPIC filed a similar complaint against Facebook after the popular social networking site changed its privacy settings.).

CBC News has also reported that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will be taking a closer look at Google Buzz due to increasing privacy concerns, as well.

The woes don’t stop there. CNET News reports that security experts identified a security problem with the Buzz for Mobile service, making Google Buzz accounts susceptible to hacking. Although Google has already corrected the problem, this was just one more snag Google didn’t anticipate.

Yikes.  That's one rough week, Google.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Union Says Thomson Reuters Improperly Restricted Employee Use of Twitter

A labor union has accused Thomson Reuters of illegal pay cuts, as well as improperly restricting what its employees say via Twitter.

The Newspaper Guild of New York filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

The Guild says the company instituted a Twitter policy it never negotiated with the Guild, which prohibits its employees from tweeting anything "that would damage the reputation of Reuters News or Thomson Reuters." According to PR Newswire:
[a] union activist was "reminded" of the policy after responding to a senior manager's call to "join the (Twitter) conversation on making Reuters the best place to work" with a tweet that said: "One way to make this the best place to work is to deal honestly with Guild members."
Thomson Reuters disputes the Guild's illegal pay cut accusations, saying it was actually guaranteeing a minimum .5% salary hike for the Reuters News service's approximately 400 unionized journalists.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Privacy: Facebook Legal Department Hopes for Guidance from Court

So, what exactly are Facebook's legal duties with respect to protecting the privacy of its 350 million users? 

Well, Facebook isn't even sure.  And the popular social networking site would like a court to explain that to all of us.

Click here for a write-up discussing the keynote address at LegalTech New York:  "Facebook:  Perspectives on Corporate eDiscovery and Social Media," delivered by Facebook's deputy general counsel, Mark Howitson.