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

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel
free to forward them to [email protected].

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