Oklahoma, Louisiana, join growing list of States with Social Media Laws

Oklahoma and Louisiana join Wisconsin and Tennessee in recent laws restricting access to applicants’ and employees’ personal online content by prospective and current employers. Adoption of Social Media platforms continues to grow as do new legal and business risks arise as well as state legislatures provide new rules, regulations and guidance. As state by state compliance requirements develop, businesses need to review frequently overlooked elements of key social media guidance, such as how to approach specific areas like Monitoring, Content Approval, Training and Information Security.

This latest round of bandwagon-jumping follows efforts by most other states that have addressed the issue. The key take-away is that business need to take a state-by-state approach to social media legal compliance.

Generally, most of these types of laws prohibit employers from requesting or requiring that applicants or employees disclose a username, password, or other means of authentication for their online accounts.

Employers should be on the lookout for laws that address whether an applicant or employee must accept a “friend” request, change privacy settings to permit access by the employer, or otherwise divulge personal online content.

Another area of concern is the definition of “personal,” “social media” and “account. ” these definitions vary and often cover far more than common notions of social media.

Some laws apply to any online account, including e-mail, instant messaging and media-sharing accounts. Some laws address the scope of use such as “exclusively for personal communications” as opposed to “business purposes of the employer” or “business-related communications.” This carve-out further narrows the scope of the Oklahoma and Louisiana laws.

While these laws generally prohibit adverse actions based based on a refusal to provide user name, password or other authentication information, each law should be scrutinized for broader prohibitions, such as those against penalizing or threatening to penalize an employee or applicant for refusing such requests.

Technology continues to evolve and so does the legal and regulatory environment. Businesses need to continually assess and address the risks created by new laws and new uses of tech in the workplace.

Contact us for a free consultation to learn what we can do to help your business navigate the ever-changing regulatory minefield. What you don’t know can hurt you. We are here to help you avoid getting hurt.

Is Your Company’s Web Site Privacy Policy Compliant With New California Law?

Privacy Law Update: California “Do Not Track” 

Two California laws went into effect at the beginning of the year that  require additional notifications to consumers.  The California Online Privacy Protection Act (“CalOPPA”) requires that web sites, mobile apps and other online services available to California residents (in reality anyone with a web site that may be accessed by a CA resident) post a privacy policy that gives notice to consumers regarding behavioral or interest-based advertising practices (“OBA”).

Disclosures must explain:
1. If a web site operator allows other parties to use tracking technologies in connection with the site or service to collect certain user data over time and across sites and services; and
2. How it responds to browser “do not track” signals or other mechanisms designed to give consumers choice as to the collection of certain of their data over time and across sites and services

In addition, the “California Shine the Light Act” requires that companies (except non-profits and businesses with less than 20 employees) collecting broadly defined personal information from California consumers on or offline either: (a) give consumers a choice as to the sharing of that information with third parties (including affiliates) for direct marketing purposes; or (b) provide notice of, and maintain, a method by which consumers can annually obtain information on the categories of information disclosed the names and addresses of the recipients of that data, and a description of the recipients’ business.

If an e-commerce service offers tangible goods or services, or vouchers for them, to California consumers, it must give certain notices to consumers, including how they can file a complaint with the CA Department of Consumer Affairs.

Are you  concerned about how to disclose how your service responds to “Do Not Track” signals or similar tools and settings, and whether third parties are permitted to collect personally identifiable information about consumer online activities over time and across different websites when a consumer uses that online service? We may be able to help. We can review your policies, your information gathering and sharing practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee consultation.

Texas House Votes To Extend #Privacy Over Personal Emails

AUSTIN, Texas — A divided House vote provides momentum for Texas employees who wish to shield personal text messages, email passwords under a bill backed by Democratic State Rep. Hellen Giddings and given preliminary approval Thursday.

Proponents say Texas workers need the same social media protections provided in several other states. The bill prohibits employers from asking job applicants or employees for passwords to access their Facebook, Twitter or other personal accounts. Opponents argue it will provide “safe harbor” for employees to steal proprietary information at the workplace through their personal accounts.

No specific penalties are spelled out for employers who would violate the law.

The Texas law is another reminder of the ongoing evolution of Social Media law and regulation as legislators and private businesses struggle to understand how these technologies affect everyone’s rights, obligations and remedies.

If you or your business is concerned about social media legal and regulatory compliance, contact David Adler at Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler. 866-734-2568 dadler@lsglegal.com.

Three Things I Learned About Personal Cybersecurity At RSAConference That You Should Be Doing Right Now

Image representing CloudFlare as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

I just returned from RSAConference 2013 where I had the privilege and honor of giving a presentation of the legal risks caused by social media in the workplace. As a speaker-attendee, I had the priceless benefit of access to all the other speakers and programs held during the conference.

One such program I attended was “We Were Hacked: Here’s What You Should Know”. The speakers, Matthew Prince (@eastdakota) CEO of CloudFlare, and Mat Honan (@mat) writer for Wired Magazine, shared their common experience as targets of high profile hacks. Hearing the details from them first hand, including information from interviews with the hackers themselves, I learned how easy it is to be the victim of hacking and how it’s the little things that create exploitable seams in our information security barriers.

Rather than rewrite their stories, I thought I would share three simple lessons I learned that I’ve already implemented and you should too. Besides, Matt does a better job telling his own story which can be found here.

Here are the three things I learned about how you can protect yourself and others in your organization.

First, security attacks go after the “low hanging fruit” and that often means figuring out a way to exploit your personal email address. With so many web-based services and so much login information to remember, many of us use our personal email as our username for everything from the web sites on which we comment, to our online photo gallery, to our online banking service. Unfortunately, this is probably the address we use for password recovery if we forget. Given that our digital lives are easily mapped, hackers already have one piece of the two-piece login puzzle: they know your user name.

TIP NO. 1: Use a private, obscure email address for your more sensitive information.

Second, once a hacker has accessed your accounts, your computer and your files, the fun has just begun for them. As Matt Honan described, these often adolescent script kiddies simply don’t understand the value of your stored memories and other information. In his case, all the photos of his children were permanently deleted. Regardless of a hacker attack, stuff happens and you don’t want to lose everything because you we’re too lazy to back up.

TIP NO. 2: Back Up your digital life, early and often.

Third, today’s’ Internet is an interdependent ecosystem. Just because you or your organization takes security seriously, doesn’t mean that other do as well. Your internal systems are not enough. Like it or not, the seams of your security perimeter are intertwined and permeated by the services and systems of customers and vendors. For most consumers, the there is a Hobbesian choice of Security v. Convenience. Multiple login usernames and super long passwords are difficult to remember and tedious to use. As a result, most people choose the least secure means of authentication on the assumption that using astringent password is enough. Unfortunately, some people don’t even bothers with that. A recent ZoneAlarm study found that “password” was the fourth most commonly used password by consumers.

Google, Facebook and others have started using two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication requires that one enter a code after entering the username/password combo. The code is sent via, text message, voice call or email. This greatly reduces the chances of unauthorized access because hackers would need to have your phone, in addition to your username/password combo.

TIP NO. 3: Whenever possible enable two-factor authentication.

Please understand that there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to Cybersecurity. Taking these precautions does not guarantee that you won’t be attached or that your account information won’t be accessed. However, these are important and easy steps that you can take to improve your personal data security.

Please comment and follow!

 

Managing Risk: Legal Issues for Merchants & Affiliate Managers

I will be speaking at Affiliate Management Days SF 2013 (April 16-17, 2013) on the topic of “Managing Risk: Legal Issues for Merchants & Affiliate Managers.”

 

Affiliate marketing is one of the most cost-effective techniques for monetizing web site traffic and driving sales. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for high risk. While the industry is unlikely to ever be risk-free, it is possible to manage risk by: (1) understanding how techniques like behavioral and contextual targeting affect consumers, affiliates and merchants, (2) understanding the legal and regulatory environment, (3) understating risks involved with prospective marketing partners, (4) using and maintaining proper contracts that allocate risk and provide appropriate indemnifications, and (5) keeping informed about the changes in technology, marketing practices and the regulatory environment. Attendees will learn how to identify these issues and develop policies and procedures to keep informed about the current technology, marketing strategies and regulatory compliance.

 

Topics covered include:

 

  • Behavioral/Contextual Advertising
  • Regulatory/Industry Compliance : FTC Guides & Enforcement Actions
  • CAN-SPAM compliance
  • IP Law: Rules governing use of others™ Trademarks/Keywords, Right of Publicity/Endorsement Issues.
  • Identifying, protecting against, and disputing accusations of Click-Fraud

 

Geno Prussakov, the Founder & Chair of Affiliate Management Days and the CEO & founder of AM Navigator LLC did a pre-interview with me on Small Business Trends that can be found here.

 

 

 

Whose Social Media Account Is It Anyway?

As a result of the rapid shift in marketing from unilateral one-to-many communications, to the multilateral, many-to-many or many-to-one conversations enabled by Social Media, employees and employers are struggling to manage accounts that are used for both work and personal purposes.

This new phenomenon has benefits, but it also creates a number of legal challenges. For employees, it may result in greater efficiency, more opportunities for authentic customers engagement and the ability to stay on top of the most current grands and business issues. For employers, it presents opportunity to reap substantial benefits from lower communications and customer support costs. For in-house counsel, it raises a host of legal and practical issues with few easy solutions and significant liability and regulatory risks.

First, there are hardware issues. Smartphones, tablets and other personal electronics often have social networking capabilities built in. in addition, they contain contain both personal and business data. Because these devices are always on and always connected, they are more than just personal property. They have become essential business tools. For both sides of the workplace equation, employers and employees must understand where the privacy lines fall between personal versus work-related information.

Second, there are data issues. Employers must balance their needs to monitor employee usage, employees’ privacy concerns, and the risk of liability for theft or exposure of data if a device is lost or stolen, or from lack of proper safeguards on account usage. For in-house counsel tasked with drafting policies to address these risks, , Prior to implementation of any policy, the legal team needs to educate front line employees and management on reasonable expectations of privacy and security and the harms that the organization seeks to prevent.

Lastly, recent cases such as the Cristou v. Beatport litigation, highlight the struggle to define and control the beginning and end of employee social media accounts, ownership and protection of intellectual property and the post termination risks that arise from the absence of appropriate policies.

As we prepare to start a new year, the time is ripe to establish security and privacy policies governing creation, maintenance and use of employees’ social media accounts for work functions. In-house counsel must lead the charge to educate, inform and train employees about privacy, security and evidence-recovery implications associated with use of social media.

How Do You Respond To & Prevent Social Media Spam

I’m surprised at how often I receive commercial bulk email messages that are not compliant with the Federal CAN SPAM act.The two biggest mistakes I see are 1) no physical address and 2) no opt-out/unsubscribe mechanism.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Another common mistake is a “blind” bulk email address list like “Undisclosed-Recipients@email.com.”  Not only do I NOT know which address this received the offensive message, there usually isn’t even a proper return address for me to send an “Unsubscribe” message.

With the popularity of social media, you’ve  probably received a Twitter promotion for iPhones, special deals, free downloads, etc. While it’s easy to dismiss poorly-written tweets from obvious spammers, when someone replies to you on Twitter, says “must read, check it out” and the topic is clearly the kind of thing you read and share it’s more difficult to tell. Often, these are from legitimate accounts where a human has taken the time to compose and send the message.

In light of the growing use of electronic mail (“email”) messages for advertising, marketing, corporate communications and customer service, is essential to have some familiarity with the Federal “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003” also known as the CAN SPAM Act (the “Act”) The Act provides the parameters of its application, explicit prohibitions, requirements for transmission of legally compliant email messages including the “Opt-Out” mechanism and vicarious liability.  Generally speaking, the Act was written to prohibit the fraudulent, deceptive, predatory and abusive practices that threaten to undermine the success and effectiveness of commercial email and email marketing.

Congress drafted the Act to impose limitations and penalties on the transmission of unsolicited commercial email messages. Unlike some state initiatives, the Act is an “opt-out” law. Put another way, for most purposes permission of the e-mail recipient is not required. However, once an email recipient has indicated a desire to opt-out or no longer receive such messages, failure to comply with the recipient’s request may subject both the sender and the person or entity on whose behalf the message was sent to severe penalties.

Frequently asked question about the Act include:

1)    To Whom Does The Act Apply? The Act applies to any person or entity that sends email.

2)    What Activities Are Prohibited By The Act? The Act is primarily concerned with explicitly  prohibiting certain predatory and abusive commercial email practices.

3)    What Are The Requirements For Sending Email Messages? Section 5(a) of the Act sets requires the inclusion non-misleading information regarding: (a) transmission, (b) subject, (c) email address, (d) Opt-out and physical address, and (e) clear and conspicuous language identifying sexually-oriented messages.

4)    Who Can Be Liable for Violations? The Act applies to both the party actually sending the commercial email messages and those who procure their services.

Discussion

The primary substantive provisions of the Act can be divided into three parts found in Section 4, Section 5 and Section 6. Section 4 of the Act addresses “predatory and abusive” practices prohibited by the Act. Section 5 details the requirements for transmission of messages that comply with the Act. Section 6 details the requirements for transmission and identification of sexually-oriented messages. Section 6 is not discussed in this article.

Section 4 of the Act lists specific “predatory and abusive” practices prohibited by the Act.  In short, the Act specifically prohibits: (i) accessing a computer without authorization for the purpose of initiating transmission of multiple commercial email messages, (ii) transmission of multiple commercial email messages with the intent to deceive or mislead recipients, (iii) transmission of multiple commercial email messages with materially false header information, (iv) registration of email accounts or domain names using information that materially falsifies the identity of the actual registrant, and (v) false representations regarding the registration of Internet Protocol addresses used to initiate multiple commercial email messages.

The second relevant part, set forth in Section 5 of the Act, details the requirements for transmission of messages that comply with the Act. Subject to certain limitations discussed below, the Act requires that email messages contain: (i) transmission information that is not materially false or misleading, (ii) subject information that is not materially false or misleading, (iii) a return address or comparable mechanism for opt-out purposes, (iv) identifier, Opt-out and physical address, and (v) clear and conspicuous language identifying sexually-oriented messages as such. (Note, this last requirement is not discussed. See above.) Lastly, the Act implicates both commercial email transmission service providers as well as those who procure their services.

To Whom Does The Act Apply?

The Act applies to any person or entity that sends email. The Act specifically regulates “commercial electronic mail messages,” defined as any email message “the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose).” However, the Act specifically excludes from this definition “transactional or relationship messages.” A “transactional or relationship message” falls within one of five categories of messages:

  1. communications that facilitate, complete or confirm a commercial transaction previously agreed to by the recipient;
  2. communications that provide warranty or other product information with respect to a product or service previously used or purchased by the recipient;
  3. notifications with respect to a subscription, membership, account, loan, or comparable ongoing commercial relationship;
  4. information directly related to an employment relationship or related benefit plan in which the recipient is currently involved; and
  5. communications to deliver goods or services, including product updates or upgrades, under the terms of a transaction previously agreed to by the recipient.(Emphasis added.)

The purpose for the distinction between “commercial electronic mail messages” and “transactional or relationship messages” is to exempt certain types of communications from compliance with all the message transmission requirements of the Act. As should be clear from the list above, the Act distinguishes the types of communications based on the relationship between the sender and recipient rather than on the character of the message. Put another way, so long as the communication is related to some type of existing business relationship, it is not a “commercial electronic mail message.”

What Activities Are Prohibited By The Act?

Section 4 of the Act is primarily concerned with prohibiting certain predatory and abusive commercial email practices. Section 4(a) amends Chapter 47 of Title 18 of the United States Code by adding Section 1037 which specifies the offenses that constitute “fraud and related activity in connection with email.” An offense is committed by anyone who directly or indirectly, knowingly:

  1. accesses a protected computer without authorization, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from or through such computer,
  2. uses a protected computer to relay or retransmit multiple commercial electronic mail messages, with the intent to deceive or mislead recipients, or any Internet access service, as to the origin of such messages,
  3. materially falsifies header information in multiple commercial electronic mail messages and intentionally initiates the transmission of such messages,
  4. registers, using information that materially falsifies the identity of the actual registrant, for five or more electronic mail accounts or online user accounts or two or more domain names, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from any combination of such accounts or domain names, or
  5. falsely represents oneself to be the registrant or the legitimate successor in interest to the registrant of 5 or more Internet Protocol addresses, and intentionally initiates the transmission of multiple commercial electronic mail messages from such addresses.

Clearly, Section 4 is primarily concerned with preventing practices whereby the sender intentionally, either through outright fraud or other deception, conceals its true identity or the true commercial character of the message.

What Are The Requirements For Sending Email Messages?

            Section 5(a) of the Act sets forth certain other protections for the users of commercial email.

Accurate Transmission Information. Among the affirmative requirements of Section 5(a), Section 5(a)(1) prohibits sending either a commercial electronic mail message, or a transactional or relationship message, that contains, or is accompanied by, header information that is materially false or materially misleading. Unlike the general prohibition against sending messages with materially false header information under Section 4, in addition to having technically accurate transmission information, the sender is prohibited from having used false pretense or other deceptive means to acquire such information (e.g. email accounts, domain names and IP addresses). Furthermore, the “from” line must “accurately identify the person transmitting the message.” Lastly, the sender must accurately identify the computers used to originate, relay or retransmit the message.

Note, the following only apply to commercial electronic mail messages:

Accurate Subject Information. Messages must have accurate subject information. Subject information would not be accurate if a “person has actual knowledge, or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances, that a subject heading of the message would be likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact regarding the contents or subject matter of the message.”[8]

Inclusion of Opt-out Mechanism. Messages MUST contain a functioning return email address or other Internet-based mechanism (e.g. hyperlink), that is clearly and conspicuously displayed that enables a  recipient to submit a request to opt-out of future email messages from the sender whose email address was contained in the message. The opt-out mechanism (whether email address or hyperlink, etc.) must remain functional for at least thirty (30) days after the transmission of the original message.

            Removal After Objection. If a recipient makes a request using the opt-out mechanism, the sender shall not transmit any further messages to the recipient, more than ten (10) business days after the receipt of such request, if such message would fall within the scope of the request. A third-party acting on behalf of the sender shall not transmit or assist others to transmit, any further messages to the recipient, more than ten (10) business days after the receipt of such request, if such third party knows or should know of the recipient’s objection. Lastly, the sender and any third party who knows that the recipient has made such a request, shall not sell, lease, exchange, or otherwise transfer or release the electronic mail address of the recipient for any purpose other than compliance with the Act or other provision of law.

Inclusion of Identifier, Opt-out & Physical Address. Every message must clearly and conspicuously: (i) identify the message as an advertisement or solicitation; (ii) provide notice of the opportunity to opt-out of future communications; and (iii) provide a valid physical postal address of the sender. However, the notice that a message is an advertisement or solicitation does not apply where the recipient has given prior affirmative consent to receive the message.

Related Activities Proscribed.

Other prohibitions in the Act concern unethical or unscrupulous practices that tend to coincide with deceptive or abusive email. Several common methods for generating email distribution lists have also been proscribed. The Act prohibits certain unethical practices such as:

  • hijacking another email server to send or relay messages;
  • “harvesting” email addresses that appear on others’ Web sites;
  • randomly generating email addresses;
  • knowingly linking an email ad to a fraudulently registered domain; and
  • participating in other offenses such as fraud, identity theft, etc.

Who Can Be Liable for Violations?

The Act applies to both the party actually sending the commercial email messages and those who procure their services.[9] One cannot “outsource” its “spam” and thereby avoid liability under the Act. One may be held accountable if the email service employed isn’t actually using a legally-compiled or permission-based list. Under some parts of the Act one may be held liable for employing a third party to distribute the messages “with actual knowledge, or by consciously avoiding knowing, whether such [third party] is engaging or will engage, in a pattern or practice that violates this Act.”

CONCLUSION

The Act was written to prohibit the fraudulent, deceptive, predatory and abusive practices that threaten to undermine the success and effectiveness of commercial email and email marketing. Since Bacon’s uses email to communicate with employees, vendors, existing and prospective customers, Bacon’s is clearly subject to the Act. The Act focuses on enumerating proscribed activities rather than affirmative obligations to make it easier for legitimate, honest businesses to comply with the Act. The Act distinguishes communications based on a previously existing relationship between the sender and the recipient from those communications that are prospective in nature. Generally, email messages not based on a pre-existing relationship are subject to greater affirmative requirements.

Compliance Guidelines.

  1. Be Aware of the Requirements for Transmitting Messages.
  2. Require Compliance by Clients.
  3. Monitor Distribution by Affiliates.