Internet Industry’s Legal Risk and Solution to Personal Privacy Infringement

Law School, Xiamen University, 361005 Xiamen, China



Yimeei Guo


In recent years, Internet industry has borne the legal risk to infringe users’ personal privacy. This article wants to figure out some plausible solutions to help Internet industry to prevent the legal risk in advance.

Personal privacyInternet industryLegal riskSolutions

11.1 Introduction

Following the day after day evolution and popular usage of Internet and mobile communication, the service category and function provided by Internet operator also becomes more and more various, from news, multimedia visual sound, Street View to book and material research, etc. The users only need moving fingers; then, they can easily obtain relevant messages which they want to understand. Those services provided for free are quite super valuable welfares for the users.

However, at the same time, the users will confront the risk of their personal privacy being infringed as well. For example, Google’s Street View photographing vehicle took a picture on personal privacy scenery. It also collected e-mails, URLs, and passwords from unsecured wireless networks around the world. As to Internet operators, this means the legal risk of being sued by privacy infringement. For instance, on December 23, 2010, the US iPhone and iPad users collectively filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Jose, California, against Apple’s revealing personal information. They asked the court to prohibit such action without their permission and award damage (Legaldaily 2010). Therefore, how to use personal information and effectively protect personal privacy by Internet industry is worthy for us to pay attention to and put it into consideration. Finally, this article hopes to figure out some plausible solutions to help Internet industry to prevent the legal risk in advance.

11.2 Recent Emerging Online Personal Privacy Infringement Disputes

Firstly, there are emerging disputes regarding personal privacy infringed by Internet industry in several countries, which tend to increase more and more. Here are selected examples as follows:

  • In July 2010, a researcher of American Network Security Consulting Firm “Skull Security” utilized “spider software” to collect 0.1 billion user data of not amended privacy setting from Facebook (Du Tianqi 2010).

  • On October 18, 2010, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported that the 10 most popular Facebook applications, including Farmville and Texas HoldEm Poker, were sending user identifications to 25 companies, some of which were advertising firms and some of which built behavioral tracking databases containing information about users’ behavior, which is against Facebook’s rules. The WSJ reported that the user ID data were passed on even in the case of users whose privacy settings were set to maximum, meaning that users could do nothing to stop it happening (Du Tianqi 2010).

  • On October 22, 2010, WSJ alleged that the MySpace ad transferred the Web address of the originating page, and that Web address contained the user ID of the user. Some apps are also transferring user IDs, the Journal’s report found. The apps included BitRhymes Inc.’s TagMe, WonderHill Inc.’s GreenSpot, and RockYou Inc.’s RockYou Pets (Mark Hachman 2011).

  • WSJ conducted a similar investigation earlier in the same week with Facebook, also concluding that many of its top apps were also transferring personal identification information (Mark Hachman 2011).

  • On December 2010, Qihoo 360, a China’s online security provider, has been accused by Kingsoft Network Technology of collecting and leaking the private information of its users, igniting rounds of recrimination between the two Chinese Internet companies (Zhang 2011).

Secondly, there were some pending or decided cases overseas involving Internet industry’s infringing users’ privacy as follows:

  • On October 18, 2010, the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD) has opened disciplinary proceedings against Google for alleged violation of the country’s data protection laws, following an investigation launched in May and forwarded its findings to a Madrid court. It said it had evidence of five offences committed by Google involving the capturing and storing of data from users connected to Wi-Fi networks while collection photographs for Street View, and the transfer of such data to the United States (Spanish agency sues Google over Street View 2010).

  • On May 17, 2010, Oregon and Washington residents file class action lawsuit against Google over alleged Google street view (“GSV”) WI-FI invasion of privacy and seeks injunctive relief barring Google from destroying or altering payload data collected in Oregon and/or Washington (GSV 2010).

  • On August 20, 2010, the operator—YU Wusen of Campax English Consulting Firm in Taichung, Taiwan—directed program designer Xu Shengwei to steal Columbia’s 24,307 clients’ data for promoting business. After Columbia Group brought the lawsuit for damage compensation, Taichung District Court ordered Campax, YU Wusen, and Xu Shengwei to pay Columbia Group NTD$15,000,000 severally (Campex 2010).

Besides, there are foreign investigated or prosecuted cases related to Internet industry’s infringing users’ privacy and settled finally as follows:

  • In the US Federal Trade Commission’s first case against a social networking site, Twitter agreed to establish a security program that will be audited by another company. According to an FTC news release issued around late June 2010, Twitter “will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it maintains and protects the security, privacy and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information.” (Natasha Watkins et al. 2010)

  • On September 3, 2010, Google has agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle a number of cases alleging that its Buzz social networking service violated their privacy rights. The money will be paid out to Internet privacy activists to use in their education and policy work (Google 2010).

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