social media


$8 billion lawsuits started on GDPR day

31 May 2018 by

You would have to be a monk or, at any rate, in an entirely internet-free zone, not to have had your recent days troubled by endless GDPR traffic. The tiniest charity holding your name and email address up to the data behemoths have asked, in different ways, for your consent for them to hold your personal data. You may have observed the frankness and simplicity of the former’s requests and the weaseliness of the latter’s, who try to make it rather difficult for you to say no, indeed to understand what precisely they are asking you to do.

Just in case you have not looked at it, here is the Regulation. It is actually a good deal easier to understand than a lot of the summaries of it.

This lack of transparency in these consent forms/privacy statements had not gone unnoticed by one of Europe’s more indefatigable privacy sleuths. Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, who, at 30 years of age, has already been to the EU top court twice (see here and here), moved fast. By the end of GDPR day last Friday, 25 May, he sued global platforms with multibillion-euro complaints. 3 complaints said to be valued at €3.9 billion were filed in the early hours against Facebook and two subsidiaries, WhatsApp, and Instagram, via data regulators in Austria, Belgium and Germany. Another complaint valued at €3.7 billion was lodged with France’s CNIL in the case of Google’s Android operating system.

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Win (for now) for app developer against Google

11 May 2018 by

Unlockd Ltd and others  v Google Ireland Limited and others (unreported, Roth J, Chancery Division 9 May 2018) – transcribed judgment awaited

Unlockd, an app developer, sought an interim injunction to prevent Google withdrawing its services. Roth J found that the balance of convenience was in the applicants’ favour. Their claim raised a serious issue to be tried and any action by Google to withdraw their platform would severely damage the applicants’ business. An interim injunction was granted.
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Surveillance of Internet usage in the workplace

14 January 2016 by

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment

In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.

Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.

Background facts

Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages.
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Suing Facebook is no easy matter

9 November 2015 by

facebook_logoRichardson v Facebook [2015] EWHC 3154 (2 November 2015) – read judgment

An action in defamation and under the right to privacy against Facebook has been dismissed in the High Court. The Facebook entity named as defendant did not “control” the publication so as to allow liability; and even if it did, no claim under the Human Rights Act could lie against FB as it could not be described as any sort of a public authority for the purposes of Section 6 of the Act.

The claimant, acting as a litigant in person, sought damages in respect of the publication in 2013 and 2014 of a Facebook profile and a posting on the Google Blogger service. The Profile and the Blogpost each purported to have been created by the claimant, but she complained that each was a fake, created by an impostor. She claimed that each was defamatory of her, and infringed her right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
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Injunction and damages in libel case awarded against anonymous website

17 September 2015 by

solicitors-from-hell-co-u-006Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J) [2015] EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment

This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski [2011]). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)

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Phone hacking: massive privacy damages

22 May 2015 by

_83144843_hackingcompGulati v. MGN Ltd [2015] EWHC 1482 (Ch), Mann J – judgment here

For some years in the early and mid 2000s, a routine form of news-gathering in the Mirror Group was phone hacking – listening to voicemails left for celebrities by their friends, and then dishing up revelations in their papers.  And this judgment amounts to a comprehensive pay-back time for the years of distress and upset sustained by those celebrities, as the ins and outs of their private lives were played out for the Mirror Group’s profit. The damages awarded well exceeded those previously payable, as justified in the tour de force of a judgment by Mann J. 

Warning – the judgment, compelling though it is, runs to 712 paragraphs. It concerns the assessment of damages in eight cases. The Mirror Group belatedly admitted liability and apologised, not before denying any wrongdoing to the Leveson inquiry. Other claims rest in the wings pending this trial. But with awards between £72,500 and £260,250, the bar has been set high by Mann J.

The claimants (with one exception) were the classic subjects of tabloid columns, namely EastEnders and Corrie stars (or those unfortunate to be married to them), the sometime air hostess girlfriend of Rio Ferdinand, Jude Law’s former wife, Sadie Frost, and, inevitably, Gazza. Seven sued because the hacking led to repeated articles about them. The eighth, Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC, was hacked because of the information derived from the famous people who had left voicemails for him.

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Google’s misuse of private browsing data entitles individuals to damages – Court of Appeal

31 March 2015 by

google-sign-9Google Inc v Vidal-Hall and others [2015] EWCA Civ 311 (27 March 2015) – read judgment

This case concerned the misuse of private information by an internet provider based in the United States. Google had secretly tracked private information about users’  internet browsing without their knowledge or consent, and then handed the information on to third parties (a practice known as supplying Browser-Generated Information, or ‘BGI’).

The issue before the Court of Appeal was twofold:

  1. Was the cause of action for misuse of private information a tort, specifically for the purposes of the rules providing for service of proceedings out of the jurisdiction?
  2. What was the meaning of ‘damage’ in section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA) and in particular, did it give rise to a claim for compensation without pecuniary loss?

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“Keep our kids safe from predators” FB page on the rampage again

25 February 2015 by

Facebook-from-the-GuardianCG v Facebook Ireland & Another [2015] NIQB 11 (20 February 2015) – read judgment

The plaintiff was a former sex offender who had been identified on a Facebook page run by the second defendant called “Keep Our Kids Safe From Predators 2”. He had been released on licence and he was apprehensive about his safety upon his return to the community.

He resides with his father, who is disabled, and with his adult children one of whom is also disabled. He was particularly fearful of the reactions of others to his conduct in the light of the fact that his name had been published on the internet. I have posted on an earlier case where another former sex offender won an injunction against Facebook Ireland Limited in respect of the original KOKSFP, which was subsequently taken down  (XY v Facebook Ireland Ltd [2012] NIQB 96). 
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“Imprecise” injunctions against Facebook unenforceable, says NI judge

3 December 2013 by

Facebook-from-the-GuardianJ19 and Another v Facebook Ireland [2013] NIQB 113 – read judgment

The High Court in Northern Ireland has chosen to depart from the “robust” Strasbourg approach to service providers and their liability for comments hosted on their sites. Such liability, said the judge, was not consonant with the EC Directive on E-Commerce.

This was an application on behalf of the defendant to vary and discharge orders of injunction dated 27 September 2013 made in the case of both plaintiffs. One of the injunctions  restrained “the defendant from placing on its website photographs of the plaintiff, his name, address or any like personal details until further order.” These interim injunctions were awarded pursuant to writs issued by the plaintiffs for damages by reason of  the publication of photographs, information and comments on the Facebook webpages entitled “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne under Siege” and “Irish Banter” on 11 September 2013 and on subsequent dates.
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Rihanna wins against Topshop but does she have a right to her image? – Emily Goodhand

2 August 2013 by

Rihanna--010Fenty & Ors v Arcadia Group Brands Ltd (t/a Topshop) & Anor [2013] EWHC 2310 (Ch) – Read judgment

The ruling in the Rihanna/Topshop case marks a significant trend, both in case law and society, towards equating image with commodity. Increasingly, celebrities and sports personalities earn large sums of money from sponsorship and advertising deals because companies recognise that their image sells products. So how can so-called image rights be protected?

The legal regime around image rights has arisen out of common law concepts of property, trespass and tort (civil wrong). The common law system means that precedents for the protection of an individual’s likeness have arisen from judges’ decisions in cases involving unauthorised exploitation of a likeness where an individual has suffered damage as a result. Some US states have enacted specific legislation equating celebrities’ personality rights with property rights, where expiration of the rights occurs 70 years following the death of the celebrity.

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There is no right ‘to be forgotten’ by internet search engines

1 July 2013 by

google-sign-9Case C-131/12: Google Spain SL & Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) & Mario Costeja González – read Opinion of AG Jääskinen

This reference to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) concerned the application of the 1995 Data Protection Directive  to the operation of internet search engines. Apart from demonstrating the many complications thrown up by this convoluted and shortsighted piece of regulation, this case raises the fascinating question of the so-called right to be forgotten, and the issue of whether data subjects can request that some or all search results concerning them are no longer accessible through search engine.

All of these questions are new to the Court.
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Court awards anonymity for victim of libellous “paedophile” allegations

21 April 2013 by

How-to-Remove-Online-Defamation-Review-Using-Legal-Action-2ZAM v CFW & Anor [2013] EWHC 662 (QB) – read judgment

The permanent damage that internet publications can inflict is very much the focus of Tugendhat J’s assessment of damages in this case, encapsulated in the memorable description he quoted in an earlier judgment:

 what is to be found on the internet may become like a tattoo.

Since the advent of internet search engines, information which in the past would have been forgotten (even if it had been received front page coverage) will today remain easily accessible indefinitely. So a libel claimant who has a judgment in his favour nevertheless risks having his name associated with the false allegations for an indefinite period.

This is just what had happened in the present case. The second defendant’s liability for libel had already been established. This hearing was to assess the appropriate level of damages for allegations he had published on the internet, in breach of restraining orders against him, suggesting the claimant was guilty of misappropriation of family funds and paedophilia.  
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Priests are not press meat, says Strasbourg

5 December 2012 by

priestVerlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)

Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.

Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that  Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.”
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Facebook faux pas and disciplinary proceedings – when do human rights come in?

21 November 2012 by

Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221 (Ch) – read judgment 

Turner v East Midlands Trains [2012] EWCA Civ 1470 – read judgment

Two employment cases, about Facebook and train tickets respectively, indicate the difficulties of deciding where human rights may or may not be raised in disputes between private parties – neither defendant in these cases was a public authority. 

It is perfectly clear that where there is a statutory provision under attack, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act mandates the “reading down” of its wording to conform to Convention rights even though there is no “public authority” amongst the parties to the litigation. The Turner case below illustrates this particular aspect of the “horizontal” effect of the HRA in disputes between private parties.

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Twelve weeks in prison for sick jokes on Facebook? Really?

9 October 2012 by

Updated x 2 | A 20-year-old has been sent to prison for twelve weeks for posting offensive and derogatory comments about missing five-year-old April Jones on his Facebook page. His attempts at humour were undoubtedly stupid, offensive and exhibited incredibly poor taste and timing. But is a long spell in prison really the way we should be dealing with offensive idiots? Is a law which was passed before social media existed now placing a significant chill on our freedom of expression rights?

Matthew Woods pleaded guilty to an offence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits a person sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character“. He was sentenced at Chorley Magistrates’ Court.

I will not republish Woods’ comments here, but some of them are quoted in this Evening Standard article
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