Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether a federal statute that imposed a content-based restriction on online speech violated the First Amendment. That case, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, marked the first instance in which the Supreme Court weighed in on the role of the Internet in the marketplace of ideas, and decided affirmatively that speech on the Internet is afforded protection under the First Amendment.

Over the course of the twenty years following Reno, the Internet has changed in size, shape, and substance. In 1997, about 40 million people used the Internet and “most colleges and universities,” “many corporations,” “many communities and local libraries,” and “an increasing number of storefront ‘computer coffee shops’” provided the public access to the Internet. Today, at least 280 million Americans use the Internet, 102 million U.S. households have in-home broadband Internet access, and 225 million Americans access the Internet through their mobile device. In 1997, popular uses of the Internet included e-mail, listservs, newsgroups, chatrooms, and the “World Wide Web” (which then consisted of around 100,000 websites), but today, social media dominates, with an estimated 81% percent of Americans participating.

Despite the seismic changes to the Internet since the Reno case was decided, the Court’s views on online speech have remained largely consistent, albeit more tailored to the times. Recently, in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court struck down a content-neutral state law that restricted sex offenders’ access to “social networking” websites, finding that it violated the First Amendment. The significance of the Packingham opinion, particularly in its partial extension of Reno, goes beyond the four corners of the Court’s holding.

Continue Reading Reno at 20: The Packingham Decision and the Supreme Court on Online Speech

On Monday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) protected Yelp from liability relating to an allegedly defamatory user-generated review.  In doing so, the Court rejected several attempts by the Plaintiff to plead around the CDA’s broad immunity provisions by accusing Yelp of playing a

Today we published a post on the Covington eHealth blog regarding a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).  The ONC report highlights “large gaps” in policies and oversight surrounding access to and security and privacy of health information held

On January 12, 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that an employer who had monitored an employee’s private communications during working hours had not breached the employee’s right to privacy (under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

This judgment will influence how other European national courts and regulators view similar cases involving employer monitoring of employee private communications. However, the full scope of the judgement remains somewhat unclear; in particular, it remains unclear whether the ECtHR would apply similar logic if the monitored communications had been carried out through a personal account, rather than a professional one.  Employers should also take note that the judgment emphasizes the need for employer monitoring policies to be reasonable and proportionate.  The judgment is available in full here.
Continue Reading European Court of Human Rights Rules That Employers Can Monitor Employee Private Communications

Making good on its warnings that mobile apps will be an enforcement priority under the revised Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) Rule, the FTC has announced two settlements with mobile app developers:

  1. TinyCo., the developer of several child-directed mobile apps, will pay $300,000 to settle charges that it violated COPPA by collecting children’s email

Last Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of claims for violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”), holding that the plaintiffs had failed to allege Facebook and Zynga disclosed the “contents” of a communication, a necessary element under the Act.

The court’s ruling applies to the consolidated cases In re Zynga Privacy Litig. and In re Facebook Privacy Litig., in which plaintiffs alleged that the social network and popular gaming company disclosed personally identifiable information to third parties.  

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds Facebook IDs and URLS Not “Content” under ECPA

On Thursday, mobile messaging application Snapchat agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) charges that it made false or misleading representations about the ephemeral nature of its messages, the collection of user information, and the nature of its security practices. The FTC Complaint alleges six counts, many of which demonstrate the Commission’s aggressive enforcement of the FTC Act in the mobile space.

According to the Complaint, the Snapchat app allows users to send and receive photo and video messages, or “snaps,” for a limited period of time. In marketing its app, Snapchat has stated that its snaps “disappear forever” after the limited time expires. The company has also said that it will notify senders in the event that a recipient manages to take a screenshot of the message prior to its disappearance. 

Continue Reading Snapchat Settles FTC Charges

In a closing letter declining to bring enforcement action against shoemaker Cole Haan, FTC staff stated that it believes “Pins” on Pinterest featuring a company’s products can constitute an endorsement of those products, and that if the pins are incentivized by the opportunity to win a significant prize in a contest, contestants should be instructed to label their pins appropriately. 

The closing letter follows an investigation into whether Cole Haan violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act in connection with its “Wandering Sole” Pinterest Contest.  Section 5 of the FTC Act protects consumers from “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”  Pursuant to its Section 5 authority, the FTC requires disclosure when there exists a connection between a product endorser and the seller of the advertiser product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience). 

For a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree, Wandering Sole contestants were instructed to create Pinterest boards that included five re-pins of shoe images from Cole Haan’s Wandering Sole Pinterest Board.  According to the FTC, these re-pinned images featuring Cole Haan shoes constituted product endorsements that were “incentivized by the opportunity to win” a shopping spree, therefore creating a material connection requiring disclosure.  The contest rules directed contestants to caption each pin with “#WanderingSole,” but the FTC determined that the hashtag was not adequate in communicating the material connection — i.e., financial incentive — between Cole Haan and its contestants.  The FTC concluded that “entry into a contest to receive a significant prize in exchange for endorsing a product through social media constitutes a material connection that would not reasonably be expected by viewers of the endorsement.”

Continue Reading FTC Cole Haan Closing Letter: Encouraging Pinterest “Pins” in a Contest Can Trigger Endorsement Guidelines