Stuart Freen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
In one of the sleaziest moves to hit the internet in a while (and that is a very low bar), online dating site Gotham Dating Partners Inc. announced this month that it plans to take the information from up to 340 million public Facebook profiles and create dating profiles for each and every user – without their consent. The site is planning on aggregating all of the public information that can be gleaned from Facebook without “friending” users and use it to create their own database to supplement their network of dating sites. The move has raised some eyebrows and exposed the personal security risks that come with sharing private information online.
The Toronto Star reports that Facebook has already sent Gotham a cease-and-desist letter. However, it is questionable whether Gotham’s plans are actually illegal in all jurisdictions. Halifax privacy lawyer and blogger David T.S. Fraser told the Star that Gotham’s actions would violate Canadian privacy laws, since PIPEDA requires user consent before personal information can be published. But, in the absence of similar legislation, personal information is generally not protected by intellectual property laws and is free for the taking.
While Gotham seems like a small-time operation that is unlikely to gain any widespread success, it is not the first social media aggregator to draw public attention. The incredibly creepy Spokeo.com, for instance, collects information from around the web (including social media sites) to create detailed personal profiles of everyone it can find out about (which, as it turns out, is almost everybody). Personal data such as email addresses and credit ratings are available to anyone – for a small price.
The moral of this particular story seems to be that Internet users should be incredibly careful about what (and where) they send their personal information. In this case, setting Facebook privacy settings to only share information with friends should be sufficient to exclude aggregators like Gotham and Spokeo. Nevertheless, it seems that there is still a lack of public appreciation of the value of personal information and the true scope of the privacy risks that come with social networking online.