How private are your conversations on MySpace and Facebook?

Columns & Opinion, Internet

will.jpgWill Head writes…

If you lock down your profile so only your friends can read your updates, how safe are those postings should you be involved in a court case? It’s a question that the American legal system is currently grappling with.

Interestingly, in certain cases your email can be used in evidence, so the question revolves around whether there is a higher expectation for privacy for postings to social networks than that for email. A judge has ruled that currently the plaintiff’s privacy should prevail, but she didn’t rule out changing her mind at a later date if the arguments in the case persuaded her.

The case involves a teenager sexually assaulted in 2003. The fellow student who attacked her who was later convicted. The action claims that the school made the attack possible by not supervising the students properly and this contributed to her emotional distress.

In order to evaluate her mental state in court, the defence is asking for access to her postings on MySpace and Facebook as evidence. In such cases access to email is regularly granted, so is there any difference when it comes to social network sites?

Surely, in effect, messages added to you profile page are actually less private than email, since anyone you’ve added as a friend can view them?

It will also be interesting to see what the reaction of MySpace or Facebook will be if they are asked to hand over the information. The privacy policy may state that they won’t hand over your details under any circumstances, but when faced with a court order they may behave differently.

Social networks may allow you to connect with people in a way that previously wasn’t possible, but it also creates an electronic paper trail about you to. If you don’t want someone to known something about you, then it’s probably better never to post it in the first place.

Will Head
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