Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Privacy can hurt

While this blog is generally all about privacy and how to protect it, it's important to keep in mind that privacy can be a double edged sword. Take the case of Ward v. Cisco Systems. It all started with a 2007 post by an anonymous blogger about a patent infringement suit against Cisco in the Eastern District of Texas (see this article for background information). In it, the blogger, who claimed to be "just a lawyer, interested in patent cases, but not interested in publicity" made some rather acerbic comments about the lawyer suing Cisco, as well as about the Eastern District of Texas.

As it happened, the anonymous blogger wasn't "just a lawyer," he was Rick Frenkel, intellectual property counsel for Cisco. In the subsequent defamation suit filed (where else) in the Eastern District of Texas, the plaintiff's strategy highlighted the anonymity of the Troll Tracker, painting his actions as part of a sinister consipiracy by Cisco. As a result, Cisco changed its blogging policy to specify that:

If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco. In addition, Cisco employees should not circulate postings that they know are written by other employees without informing the recipient that the source was within Cisco.

(emphasis added)

In short, while privacy per-se isn't a bad thing, it can be dangerous, and that danger is something that businesses need to be aware of as they go about their business.

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