Monday, August 24, 2009

Outed Blogger Plans To Sue Google

I'm sure many have heard about the the case of Rosemary Port, whose identity was revealed by Google, which hosted her blog, after a court ordered the company to do so. Rosemary Port apparently said some not very nice things about an acquaintance and model, Liskula Cohen, under the cover of blogger anonymity. Cohen sued to get Google to reveal Port's identity, and the court ordered Google to do so. Now Port wants to sue Google for $15 million for failing to protect her privacy.

What do I think about this whole situation? The following: (1) I think anonymous bloggers lose any claims to privacy protection when they engage in ad hominem attacks. (2) If the object of an anonymous blogger's scorn can "out" the anonymouse blogger, then they have every right to do so. (3) Regardless, Port's suit against Google is baseless. Maybe some legal expert can clarify, but I don't think Google can be held legally liable in an sense simply for complying with a court order. That just makes no sense.

I think Rosemary Port got a little bit of the very same unflattering attention she so readily bestowed upon Liskula Cohen. That Port thinks it's not nice to have her identity revealed in association with nasty behavior should be a lesson to her of how it's not nice to go around calling other people nasty names without being held accountable for it. In fact, I see it as cowardly.

Now, a whistleblower blogger who keeps away from ad hominems and merely probes or exposes facts that can make people uncomfortable and which may elicit some intimidation and threats to their well-being -- that's another story. Such folks may very well deserve the protection of their private identities. But Rosemary Port ain't no whistleblower. She's just a catty and mean-spirited gossip. As such, she gets no privacy claim pass from me.


suspect device said...

Who decides what's ad hominem? or "catty"?

Huck said...

I think "ad hominem" is pretty much not up to subjective interpretation. It's basically an attack on an individual and his or her personal character rather than that individual's ideas. Now "catty" is up to subjective interpretation, and one might even claim that I'm engaging in a bit of "ad hominem" myself with that characterization of Rosemary Port. I wouldn't contest that, because it's accurate. But, then again, I'm not really hiding behind a veil of anonymity and I'm certainly not demanding that Google keep Rosemary Port from knowing who I am.

That said, I know there are people who disagree with me. And I do think there are instances when anonymity is appropriate. But I've always tilted towards the disclosure side of this debate than the "defense of anonymity in all circumstances" side.

Eric said...

I'd set the bar at libelous and/or threatening statements, rather than ad hom attacks. Google shouldn't be forced to to turn over private information just because a blogger thought somebody else's ideas were stupid, or their style of dress was tacky, or their kids ugly, and said as much in a public forum. On the other hand, calling a person a 'ho', at some level, implies that one has knowledge of their sexual life and is publishing it in a public forum as fact. It wouldn't always be libelous to do so (for instance, anybody who wants to call a porn star a 'skanky ho' whilst maintaining their internet anonymity has my blessing), but could easily cross that line.

Ultimately, a person's guaranty of anonymity is based upon the agreement they have with their ISP, the publishing agent, (in this case, google) as well as their propensity for staying within the law.

Likewise, I think a whistleblower must be willing to risk making their identify public if they want to expose facts. If they are subject to intimidation after doing so, it is the duty of the law to deal with the intimidators, but I don't think whistleblowers should be guaranteed anonymity. Even mob informants have to go public with their identity when testifying against murderous gangsters.