In a Yahoo! exclusive article published today, it was reported that Ford has initiated a lawsuit against 13 individual eBay sellers who they accuse of selling fake or counterfeit Ford parts. I’m not arguing the merits of Ford’s lawsuit as it is certainly within their rights to protect their trademarks and copyrights as well as take steps to protect dealer’s profits in the part business but rather to question the bigger issue encompassed by this: an individual’s right to privacy.
The subpoenas for the lawsuits were granted by the court for Ford to obtain the seller’s identities and information. What is unusual about this is not that they requested it, but what they asked for after that request was granted.
As reported in the article, most ISPs and websites have policies in place that notify users when the company gives out their information for any reason except for that involving criminal activity and which is requested by law enforcement agencies.
In this case, Ford not only requested the user’s information but also asked for their bank account information (which was denied) then went a step further and asked for the court to prohibit eBay and Paypal (an eBay company) from notifying the targeted users that their information was requested and given out.
This move flies in the face of all privacy issues. With the public outcry against the recent legislation effectively designed to skirt privacy issues accompanied by Ford’s strong pro-consumer brand and social media presence, you’d think they would want to steer clear of any controversy in regards to consumer privacy.
“Much of the debate in recent months over online privacy has been spurred by bills in Congress, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act and a new bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed the U.S. House in April. CISPA would let companies and law enforcement agencies broadly share users’ personal information to fight potential threats — including accusations of copyright violations and counterfeit goods — without penalty, trumping any company policy.” writes Justin Hyde in the Yahoo! article.
The reason reported by Ford for this request was:
“Ford respectfully suggests this procedure is impractical and would serve to undermine the rationale for the subpoenas. The procedure would impose a substantial burden on [eBay and PayPal] to prepare, serve and enforce subpoenas and would serve to “tip-off” or warn the Doe defendants of Ford’s investigation. Under the procedure as written, the Does would have notice that Ford was seeking their identities and thus ample time to destroy evidence, the counterfeit and infringing goods, and flee to avoid service all before Ford would be entitled to receive their true identities.”
I understand why they asked the court to do this but just because it’s a good reason doesn’t mean it should outweigh the right to privacy that all citizens enjoy. This is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
Now that one court has issued what I feel is an invasion of privacy, what’s to stop other judges from following suit. I can think of plenty of GOOD reasons for a judge to do this but that doesn’t mean they SHOULD. Where does an ISP or website draw a “line in the sand”? Despite Facebook’s own internal privacy issues, they have, and are still, fighting other companies from requiring or being allowed to access their user’s information and accounts including employer’s requesting pre-employment access, schools requiring students to reveal their Facebook walls to administrators and more.
Being an eBay user for over 14 years and a Paypal user for about 12, I would hope that they would challenge and fight for their user’s right to privacy. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and whether any of the companies involved will take a stand for their users.
While Ford may feel that their lawsuit against 13 people succeeding is more important than our rights to privacy, I just find that.. well.. impractical.