Google Privacy Policy, the FTC, and Your Rights

By | Business Legal Alerts, Federal Trade Commission, Privacy, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments

According to the WaPo’s Craig Timberg (“Google facing FTC scrutiny over privacy — yet again”), Google has been accused in a consumer advocate complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of engaging in deceptive trade practices by changing its privacy policy earlier this year to permit merging user profile data collected across the company’s various platforms.

Whether or not there is anything wrong with the Google privacy policy change remains to be seen. The FTC may even dismiss the claim on the merits.

What is clear is that the general rule of Internet free services applies. If you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product. It’s a Faustian bargain you enter into willingly with every online service that you use (from Facebook to Gmail).

Rule of Internet Free Services: You trade information about yourself and others in exchange for the service provider delivering what you want.

And if you don’t want to trade that information to be used for targeted advertising and other purposes, don’t use the “free” service. It’s really that simple.

Internet Trolls: How To Handle Them On Your Website

By | Blogging, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments

internet trollsFrom Reddit to South Park, Internet trolls and troll hunting are a subject of hot debate.

If you run a social media site, forum, membership website, or allow comments on your blog, chances are you’ve encountered trolls in some form.

Why Internet trolls exist

Although sometimes it’s easy to identify the motives behind a particular troll for causing trouble (e.g. a troll paid to wreak havoc online in a political campaign), more often it’s a pointless exercise because the troll is posting outrageous or inflammatory content for personal amusement, out of sheer boredom, or because of mental illness.

Interacting with Trolls

The phrase “do not feed the troll” exists for a reason. Trolls that are ignored often disappear. Visitors that interact with trolls are in essence feeding them so that they remain for more nourishment.

If you or one of your employees interacts with a troll, it’s like you’ve prepared a troll feast because such communication is more highly valued by the troll than simply dealing with other site visitors.

Under no circumstances should you try to troll a troll. It’s a losing proposition because even if you win a minor skirmish, you’ve encouraged a troll war on your turf. And some of the trolls may also be hackers you’ve given an axe to grind against you and your site.

Does The First Amendment Protect Trolling?

A common mistake made by website owners and trolls is to believe that trolling is constitutionally protected free speech.

However, those constitutional protections prevent the government from abridging free speech, not site owners or admins. If you own the ballpark, generally it’s your rules that govern what’s posted there (except for content that breaks the law, such as physical threats of violence, posting child porn, etc.).

Set Clear Rules

For content provided by others on your site, set clear rules as to what’s allowed and, equally important, what you’re banning. For example, if you have a membership website, your Internet lawyer can draft rules that are part of the membership agreement accepted by members. Depending upon the severity of the infraction, violations can lead to user content moderation, member suspension, or even termination.

On the other hand, it may be to your benefit to permit trolls free rein (within the confines of the law) as a means to spur debate, increase user engagement/stick rates, and boost site traffic in the process.

According to Internet Lawyer Mike Young, your visitors should know what’s permitted and what’s not so that they can make an informed decision whether to interact at your site. For instance, if a new visitor is clearly informed that free range trolling is allowed (anything goes), that visitor will rarely have a legitimate reason to complain to you, your admins, and moderators when trolls attack.

Consistently Enforce Content Rules

Perhaps the worst thing you can do when it comes to Internet trolls is to set rules but either violate or enforce them arbitrarily. Inconsistency generates user distrust while encouraging trolls to respond to hypocrisy by increasing their attacks.

If you don’t like the outcome of your current rules as they’re enforced, change the rules. However, be sure to give advance notice of the change, explain why the change is being made, and do not enforce the new rules retroactively to the past trolling that caused the change in the first place.

Social Media Policy: Don’t Commit Business Suicide

By | Featured Articles, Internet Lawyer, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments
business social media policy

Do you know the 3 types of social media policies companies should have?

There’s a Utah company that may have killed its business by creating a ridiculous social media policy.

The company gave all of its customers a contract addendum that required the customers to set up Facebook accounts and “like” the business’ FB page. In addition, the new policy authorized the company to use the customers’ photos in social media for marketing.

Misusing Social Media Policies as a Big Stick

It gets worse…

The company told customers that if they didn’t cooperate, the business would consider them to be in breach of contract.

Is this legal? Of course not.

Before any lawsuits have been filed, the company is already paying a heavy price.

Lost customers.

Negative publicity.

They’ve even been forced to shut down their Facebook page in damage control after its rating dropped to one star and the page was filled with angry comments.

Should Your Business Have a Social Media Policy?

That’s actually a trick question. You should have separate policies that cover your customers, your employees, and your independent contractors.

Your Customer Social Media Policy

Instead of threatening your customers, set up a system that pleasantly asks your satisfied purchasers to share their positive experiences in social media as an indirect way to promote your company.

  • Do: Show customers how to use Facebook, other social media, and review sites to serve as your brand ambassador using their own words. Comply with the posting guidelines for each site.
  • Don’t: Game the system by having them post to social media from your office. It sets off red flags at Google, Bing, and review sites if there are a bunch of canned testimonials and “likes” posting from a single IP address.

Your Employee Social Media Policy

Although you don’t want your company’s image tarnished by a rogue employee’s social networking, there are limitations on what your policy can do to control their actions.

For business-oriented sites like LinkedIn, it’s relatively easy to provide guidelines in your policy for what an employee can and cannot say, particularly with regard to their titles, role(s), and responsibilities at your company. However, content on personal social media sites like Facebook is tougher to control.

Your company’s Internet lawyer should craft a policy that doesn’t impose unreasonable restrictions on your employee’s free speech and privacy yet limits the ability of the employee to hurt your image by tying you to offensive or obscene content.

  • Do: Provide guidelines that sets parameters minimally necessary to protect your company. For example, if your employee identifies as a coke-snorting neo-Nazi who goes to plushie swingers parties, you probably don’t want your company’s name associated with those activities.
  • Don’t: Act like Big Brother. For example, never demand login access to your employee’s social media accounts or require your employee to “friend” you so that you have access to spy on the employee’s actions.

Your Independent Contractor Social Media Policy

If you’re outsourcing work to freelancers, you may not want your customers or competitors knowing that you’re doing so. It could mean lost business from unhappy customers and the competition poaching your talent.

  • Do: Limit the scope of what a contractor can and cannot say in social media about the contractor’s role at your company, including the services performed.
  • Don’t: Treat a contractor like an employee with your social media policy because it could be used against you to re-classify the contractor as an employee for taxes, worker’s comp, unemployment comp, benefits, and other purposes.

Is It Too Late to Set Social Media Policies?

Not yet…but waiting creates a ticking negative publicity time bomb that could go off at any time.

Even if you already have contracts in place, you can create policies designed to protect you and have them properly added as amendments. Not by using threats but with incentives (carrots) that make your new policies a win-win for everyone involved.

It’s also relatively easy for your Internet lawyer to set up your future agreements with customers, employees, and independent contractors so that the contracts include your social media policies too.

Twitter Censorship Dictionary: Safe Spaces, Bullying, and Harassment

By | Hall of Shame, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments
twitter censorship

Here’s a Twitter Censorship Dictionary – 1984 Edition

It’s time for a Twitter censorship dictionary.

Why?

Ripping a page from George Orwell’s 1984, Twitter censorship goes The Full Monty with the establishment of Miniluv (the Ministry of Love). Misleadingly designated as the “Twitter Trust & Safety Council,” the Thought Police plan to enforce politically correct orthodoxy through public shaming, unverification, suspension, or expulsion.

In Newspeak, Patricia Cartes (@Cartes), Twitter Head of Global Policy Outreach explains that MiniLuv is “a new and foundational part of our strategy to ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter.”

That statement omits the part where the only people who can feel safe expressing themselves are those who tweet groupthink propaganda.

Depending upon the severity of your politically incorrect offense, you may get off with a mere public shaming with progressive discipline for further sins. However, the arbitrary nature of emotionally-based safe spaces means that a single tweet that offends Big Brother can lead to a permanent ban.

This is a natural extension of Twitter’s ongoing harassment of dissenting views, such as those of libertine (and libertarian) Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Although social media trends left, Twitter is marching so far in that direction that what one sees is the goose stepping of national socialism where opposing views are not tolerated on issues of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even which politicians one can support for President.

Feel the Bern for Bernie Sanders? Miniluv will shower you with love.

Are you a Trumpeter for Donald Trump? Don’t tweet about your support or risk punishment.

To help you not run afoul of the Thought Police, here are a few unofficial Miniluv definitions (pending approval by Minitrue).

Bullying – any tweet that offends a member of an approved victim class. See Harassment.

Free Speech – Twitter censorship

Global Policy Outreach – Corporatespeak for a Twitter department that should be eliminated as bloat.

Harassment – anything that offends a member of an approved victim class. See Bullying.

Hierarchy of Victims – If both parties self-identify as a victim, a politically correct hierarchy is used to determine who is the true victim and who is the aggressor. This hierarchy is flexible and depends upon factors such as the parties’ race, gender orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and political views.

NitTwit – See Patricia Cartes (@Cartes).

Safe Space – A social media platform that stifles dissenting views on the grounds that such censorship protects self-identified victims. See Twitter.

Thought Police – The Trust & Safety Council’s enforcers of approved Newspeak.

Trust & Safety Council – See Ministry of Love (Miniluv) in George Orwell’s 1984.

Twitter – A social media platform that’s jumped the shark with doublethink.

Victim – A self-identified victim of bullying or harassment. Such victims often identify as a social justice warrior (SJW).

How should you handle Twitter censorship?

Be yourself.

If punished for speaking truth to power by the Tweet Police, walk away with pride that you didn’t sacrifice who you are on the altar of political correctness.

Just because Twitter censorship exists doesn’t mean you have to comply if you’re willing to walk away and play in one of the other social media ballparks that doesn’t act like Big Brother.

Do You Have Deceptive Inbound Marketing Syndrome?

By | CyberCrime, Internet Marketing, Marketing, Scams, Social Media, Social Networking | No Comments
inbound marketing fraud

Avoid inbound marketing fraud and deceptive trade practices

Although “inbound marketing” isn’t dead, misuse of the term and deceptive claims as to its effectiveness have just about consigned the term to corporate buzzword bingo.

You can see Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss adopting the term to replace “lean thinking” or “Six Sigma” as part an effort to create a new paradigm while thinking outside the box.

Misuse of the term “inbound marketing”

Today, inbound marketing is thrown around to mean far more things than permission-based marketing. It’s become a way to refer to just about any act that isn’t outbound marketing.

Everything from reading TechCrunch (research) to sharing Grumpy Cat meme pics on Facebook and Google+ (social networking) is misbranded these days as permission marketing. The activities may be useful or merely entertaining but they are not inbound marketing.

The term has been corrupted primarily by those who never understood what it means in the first place.

Others misuse it as a means to escape accountability, claiming ephemeral brand-building or other generic positives that are difficult or impossible to measure through hard metrics, such as conversion rates.

Deceptive inbound marketing claims

Although there isn’t a language police to ensure inbound/permission marketing is used correctly, legal risks do arise when self-proclaimed gurus misrepresent the power of inbound marketing to sell related info products or services to businesses.

If someone claims to run a profitable business solely based on inbound marketing, you should be skeptical that you’re at best getting half the story.

Here’s why…

Many inbound marketers started with outbound marketing

There are inbound marketing “experts” who actually grew their companies by using outbound marketing tactics, such as cold-calling, direct response mail, and traditional advertising on TV, radio, etc.

In other words, these inbound marketing messiahs actually built their up client bases as outbound marketers. Today, they’re enjoying the fruits of that past labor, consisting of repeat business and referrals from existing clients.

The inbound marketing content you see produced now by these “gurus” was never a critical component of their success as startups.

The failure to disclose this outbound marketing history is arguably a material omission or misrepresentation when selling the virtues of their inbound marketing products and services.

Hidden current outbound marketing

Even more obnoxious are the con artists who proclaim inbound marketing is the only way to attract prospects and clients but secretly use outbound marketing too in their companies. This goes beyond a material omission by treading into the realm of outright fraud.

When someone claims their inbound marketing service or product is all that you need to find qualified prospects that convert to clients, look behind the curtain. More often than not, the solution provider is actually using outbound marketing as well in their operations.

There are many marketing strategies and tactics that may benefit your business – but there isn’t a single one that replaces all others.

Sales puffery is one thing. However, don’t do business with those who misrepresent what they’re trying to sell you.

If you’re selling marketing-related products or services online, you should make sure you’re doing so in a legal and ethical manner. In addition to being the right thing to do, you’ll be reducing your risk of being investigated by the government or sued by unhappy customers. To learn more, schedule a phone consultation with Internet Lawyer Mike Young.