WARNING: Think before you post

WARNING: Think before you post

I’m beginning to think all web sites that allow people to post any kind of content — be it images, videos, audio, or words — should come with a cautionary label that says something like: “Warning: what you are about to post could be a serious career, relationship, friendship, privacy, ego, and/or credibility limiting move. Make sure you think twice before hitting send.”


It goes without saying (but I am going to say it anyway) that there are important issues to consider when posting content on the Internet. 


First of all, you could be hard-pressed to ever permanently remove whatever you have posted. Archives and the ability to download being what they are, it is entirely possible the video your friends took of you during a less-than-stellar moment and posted on YouTube will come back to haunt you, like when the head of human resources at the company where you just interviewed for your dream job does a background check on you.  


With all of the social networking sites out there now, there are endless ways to end up in a position you never anticipated or ever hoped of finding yourself in. 


I am clearly out of the loop, because I only recently heard about a ‘dating’ site — and I use the term very loosely — called Ashley Madison. It is a successful site that boasts tens of thousands of clients, all looking for one thing: to have an affair. Call me old-fashioned in my notions, but it seems the whole point of having an affair is that it not be public so that you don’t get caught. 


Apparently I really am out of date because posting pictures and lengthy profiles that talk about romantic walks and deep conversations (I kid you not) are what it is all about on this site. Yes, I did check it out but behind the veil of a totally fictitious profile sans photos, and apart from being rather disheartened by the number of people looking to ‘connect,’ I couldn’t help but think that they were a very silly lot indeed for being, well, so honest. About who they are at any rate. 


I have to wonder if these people actually stopped to consider:

(a) that their significant other might also be on the site for all, including their mate, to see; and

(b) that anyone else who might know them — and could expose them — might also be on the site.  


It’s embarrassing enough when your friends find out that you are on a dating site looking for love. Imagine going out to have an exciting tryst only to find out it’s with your boss. Yikes!  


Apart from a potentially awkward moment at the water cooler on Monday morning, there are other risks to consider when posting on the Internet. Like the loss of your privacy, or worse, your identity. Security is something many don’t consider when providing information that is available to the sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. I am constantly surprised by the number of people who post their real birth dates publicly. Not to mention that while you might have terminated your account with Facebook, your profile may never be entirely deleted by the company.  


Also, consider first that you could get sued for using someone’s likeness without first getting their consent. Or be sued for copyright infringement because you posted someone else’s work online without asking their permission or giving them credit. 


Generally speaking, a harsh letter from some lawyer will most likely get sent to you first, but who wants to hire a lawyer (unless you are one of course — but you wouldn’t get into this mess to begin with right?) even if it is only to translate the threat into English before you proceed to do exactly what it says. Protecting one’s rights, whatever they might be, is hard enough at the best of times, but throw the Internet into the mix and it can be a devastating experience — personally, professionally, and financially.  


I will say that there are some clever companies taking advantage of YouTube where videos have been posted using infringing content by posting advertisements against these videos — as an alternative to suing. Makes sense to me. Why sue if you can make money instead by drawing traffic/customers to your site/business? 


On a less serious note, The Globe and Mail posted the Facebook pictures of its fans on its web site the other week, and lo and behold, there was the picture of a good friend of mine for all Globe readers to see. And possibly ridicule. Assuming anyone could recognize her in the photo. 


Truth be told, I thought it was a hilarious high school photo — only to discover that it was actually her professional ‘head shot’ for work. Oops — sorry J. On the plus side, how bad can it be if you look 16 at 30-whatever right? She might want to re-think the whole “high-school look” though. Just saying. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I actually look my age in mine. 


The point is, I doubt she realized she had given her consent for the Globe to use her Facebook profile picture to publicize its readership, and might have been less gracious when ribbed by her friends had it been a less flattering image. 


The moral of this story? Take my (and probably your) mother’s sage advice, translate it into technology-speak and think before you hit send. 

Sarah Dale-Harris is a lawyer in the intellectual property, technology & interactive entertainment groups at Davis LLP. Her practice focuses on the creation, development, management, commercialization, and enforcement of technology and life sciences-based portfolios and related intellectual property rights. Sarah can be reached at 416-365-3522 or at sdale-harris@davis.ca.

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