Media outlets have for a while made use of the information we make available online to feed their stories. Sometimes, the information found online is invaluable to the public interest. Most times it is exploited for sensationalist angles, as in the case of the Passive Arts Studio arson and murder incident here in Los Angeles.
As a result, a lot of people are beginning to put notices on their social media profiles that threaten legal action if said profile’s information is mined for content without permission. These warnings read something like this:
WARNING: Any researcher, students, institutions and/or media using this site or its associated sites for projects – You do not have permission from me to use any of my profile or pictures in any form or forum both current and future. If you have or do, it will be considered a violation of my privacy, and will be subject to academic disciplinary or legal action.
We’re concerned with these warnings because they give users the impression that putting these up somehow protects them. They do not. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy when one posts content publicly or semi-publicly on the web. No claim can be made against a person reviewing the information readily presented.
One may be able to claim copyright infringement if any content is published without the person’s permission, and use of a photo could lead to a claim of misappropriation of a user’s likeness. But these actions can only be pursued if someone reprints copy or an image. They are not protections against the private spreading of this information or actions taken by an individual based on information he or she has seen on a profile.
For this reason, it is important to make use of privacy settings as it regards more personal content. Remember, legally, in order to make a claim about your privacy, you have to show that you took measures to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy and posting content publicly or even semi-publicly online is antithetical to that.