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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Filed Under: contract, section 230
Companies: yahoo

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2009 @ 4:46am

    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?

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