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What Is Private?

By - January 18, 2008

All Facebook discusses the story of a dust up between Facebook and blog publisher Gawker, which posted information and pictures found in a well known New York socialite’s Facebook profile.

Is information found in a Facebook profile public? It seems to me to be pretty clear that it’s not. Emily’s public profile on Facebook has none of the information Gawker published. The real question seems to be whether Emily is a “public figure” and therefore subject to a different standard. The author at Gawker got access to Emily’s “friends” profile, which had much more information, and published that. Is that so different than gaining access to, say, a private party where a reporter sees Emily, and reports on what she does? That’s privileged information, but no one would have an issue with a gossip reporter covering a party full of socialites.

Regardless, it’s clearly a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. Will be interesting to see if Emily or Facebook pushes on this.

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  • Brian Hayashi

    While it may be easy for some to dismiss this as just another story about yet another rich girl, I have to believe that Emily Brill feels tremendously violated.

    It echoes the story a couple years back of how Paris Hilton’s Sidekick got hacked and her private information spilled over. In both cases the individual had a presumption of privacy that was violated in a novel way by a third party.

    It’s interesting that this example is coming up just as the Data Portability Workgroup is revving up. As a member, I’m less concerned about tedium and more concerned about vague concepts of privacy and the potential impact of regulation if we fail to anticipate issues.

    It feels like we need the functional equivalent of CAN-SPAM minus the regulation: an absolute guarantee of privacy, with incentives for performance, but without regulatory oversight.