RealTime IT News

Please Do Not Feed the Sharks

Credit Suisse First Boston is busy throwing its weight around over on Yahoo!'s lawless discuss ion forums. The investment banker slapped ten anonymous message board posters and one known perpetrator with a lawsuit alleging phony baloney statements, slander, and illegally publishing one of its analyst's research on the Net. Welcome to the World Wide Web.

I'm certain that I could come up with more than a couple of foul initial public offerings that the investment banker has saddled retail investors with, but you don't see anyone suing for negligence. This business of sue-happy lawyers, penny stock companies, and now one of the investment banking community's heavies, saber-rattling the long arm of the law every time someone uses the first amendment, has got to stop.

Instead of taking up a worthy cause and heading into a court of law, most companies who file these lawsuits don't mind giving penniless defendants sleepless nights. With deep pockets and far too much time on their hands, it's more about flexing a little muscle, and scaring other would-be perps into silence. Incidentally, that's why you see so few lawsuits slapped against deep-pocketed loudmouth journalists who'd love nothing more than a little brouhaha to pass the time.

The issue of off-color postings in a public discussion forum is becoming a more frequent target of lawsuits. The reason behind many of the suits is that with a simple subpoena in hand, the plaintiff company can easily gain access to private user information, without ever having to prove its case in court first. And dot-com companies seem all too willing to hand over personal user information. Oftentimes, a subpoena isn't even necessary.

Unfortunately, portal giant Yahoo has frequently erred on the liberal side when it comes to handing over personal user information. Only through a heightened awareness raised by privacy advocates and recent highly publicized incidents involving Yahoo's loose disclosure, has the company instituted a stricter policy when it comes to revealing posters' identities.

I once read an article from a so-called privacy advocate who encouraged users to be as truthful as possible when filling out registration forms at well-known, respected sites like Yahoo. But where's the incentive? From free e-mail providers to online message forums, users can easily save themselves potentially frivolous legal action by signing up with bogus information in order to leave a cold trail behind them.

Maybe that's not politically correct and maybe that makes monetizing eyeballs more difficult, but it's a habit that sue-happy corporations are inadvertently encouraging. In a Wild Wild Web that's oftentimes an offense to the senses, what we really need are fewer lawsuits and a little thicker skin.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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