Court Ruling: Section 230 Protects Sites… But Not Necessarily If They Promise To Remove Content

from the giving-up-your-safe-harbor dept

An interesting court ruling has added a wrinkle to section 230 safe harbors that protect a website from being liable for actions of its users. In this case, Yahoo was given immunity due to section 230, but may still be in trouble because a Yahoo employee promised to remove the content in question. The case involved a guy who posted profiles of his ex-girlfriend on Yahoo sites. The profiles in question included nude photos the ex-boyfriend had taken and her (real) contact info. He then posed as her in chat rooms and pointed men to her profile leading to numerous unwanted phone calls. Yahoo was apparently quite slow in responding to her complaints, but eventually someone promised to “take care of” the issue. However, two more months went by and nothing happened, so the woman sued (at which point the profiles were finally removed).

Now, it’s pretty bad that Yahoo was slow to remove the profiles, but it still seems like the woman’s case should have been against the ex-boyfriend who posted the profiles. That, of course, is the whole point of Section 230, so that the service/tool provider is not blamed for the actions of an individual, even though that individual is still responsible. There was some question over whether or not Section 230 still applied since this wasn’t a defamation case, but the court (correctly) ruled that section 230 applies to much more than just defamation.

However, the more interesting part is that the court noted that since a Yahoo rep indicated she would “take care of” things, she may have established a separate “contract” outside of section 230 safe harbors, which was then violated. So… the lesson is, if you want to keep your safe harbors, don’t promise stuff and fail to live up to it…

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Companies: yahoo

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Comments on “Court Ruling: Section 230 Protects Sites… But Not Necessarily If They Promise To Remove Content”

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10 Comments
David T says:

I think it was about getting the photos off the web...

It sounds like the lady wanted to get the photos down and after getting the runaround resorted to a lawsuit to speed things up. Perfectly reasonable, under the circumstances.

I think Yahoo was irresponsible in this case, and the boyfriend should be prosecuted as well. This kind of stuff destroys careers.

Jack Sombra says:

“but it still seems like the woman’s case should have been against the ex-boyfriend who posted the profiles”
Not really if Yahoo had done what they promised to do (and common decency demanded they do) she would have had no case, but as they did not they became party to boyfriends actions

Section 230 is there to protect sites from actions beyond their reasonable control, it is not and should not be a blanket “get out of jail” card

cybertelecom (user link) says:

origins of 230

Of course “taking care of it” is how 230 got its start. Service providers were trying to do the rite thing and getting punished for it. Before 230 (aka the communications decency act), prodigy try to make a family friendly chat room, monitoring posted content and deleting it where necessary. Well john doe got on prodigy, and defamed a fiancial institution. The fiancial onstitution could not sue john doe, so it sue prodigy. The court ruled, bc prodigy was doing the rite thing creating a safe zone for kidz, prodigy was acting like an editor and therefor was a publisher. As a publisher, prodigy is liable for published defamation.

Lesson learned: don’t protect children

Congress’s response: not! We congress like isps the work to protect children. Therefore congress passed 230 as a part of the communications decency act _ effectively putting isps in the position of common carries, not being legally liable for the content carried.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who is to blame? Probably Senior Management.

I suppose I am more concerned about why the original requests were not honored.

Regardless of the content, if an agent acting on behalf of the company makes a promise to “take care of” the issue, yet, for one reason or another, such a promise was never actually delivered, it does open the company up for liability.

Perhaps the agent who promised it would be “taken care of” was acting in a “Good Will” fashion, believing that that the company would have the resources, tools and ability to remove the profile, but nonetheless, a promise was made from an actor who works on behalf of the company.

After the promise was made, perhaps they learned that the company wasn’t properly equipped with the ability to adequately address these types of issues.

With that in mind, future state is almost always owned by the Senior Leadership. They are the ones focused on these types of issues and often these types of problems should be take priority. Front line contacts should be enabled to service the user in what I believe, this is a simple request.

To discern blame, one has to ask if internally, what actions were taken to ensure a good faith effort was employed. Was the issue rectified? Was it escalated?

If no escalation was found, or if the employee was fired (Which would be an indication of non-compliance to policy, but in this situation, still not rectified) then Yahoo may very well be liable.

Consider Citibank as an example. How much more capital do they need to be a solvent company in the future?

Anonymous Coward says:

Get Real? According to feelings or the law?

If a legitimate request was made and agreed upon between an agent acting on behalf of the company and the consumer, it could be well argued that a business transaction took place.

The problem stems in timely delivery.

A verbal contract (if over phone) is as enforceable as a written contract. Nonetheless, something was agreed upon, and the business collectively decided to own it, so a transaction occurred.

Most businesses realize that the downstream effects of the business’s inability to perform the said request in a timely manner as agreed upon are usually moved into the liability column to the business, and are mitigated at a fast rate.

It’s sad that it took a lawyer to have this actually accomplished.

nasch says:

The lesson

So… the lesson is, if you want to keep your safe harbors, don’t promise stuff and fail to live up to it…

Unfortunately, the lesson could be just don’t promise stuff. If Yahoo had completely ignored the woman, they would have been protected, right? They might have taken a PR hit, but legally they would be OK. So section 230 (which don’t get me wrong I think is a good thing) may produce an incentive to be unresponsive to such complaints.

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