Spokeo vs. Robins Heading to Supreme Court, Could Have a Major Impact on Your Ability to Protect Your Online Reputation

The amount of information that can be found online about you is growing every day. The Internet, Facebook, other social media, online credit reports, and “Googling” have eroded privacy significantly since the days before the Internet. While these privacy erosions are concerning, there’s a slightly different concern working its way through the U.S. Supreme Court: What if the information about me online is inaccurate? Is there anything I can do about it?[1]

In Spokeo v. Robins, the plaintiff, Thomas Robins, is suing a company called Spokeo; a people search website that aggregates data about people from around the Internet and then sells people’s “profiles” to others who are willing to pay for it. Anyone can go online and search Spokeo’s website for anyone in the world. You can type in a name, then narrow down the search results by state and city, and voila! you have information about that person’s age, family members, and home address. If you pay Spokeo, you can even get that person’s complete profile, rather than just the sneak peek. The site can be used by anyone, but is most commonly used by employers, who use it to check out employees or potential hires; and individuals who use the site for private investigatory purposes.

The basis of the law suit is that Spokeo posted inaccurate information about Robins. His profile included inaccuracies regarding his age, his employment history, and his relationship status. Spokeo admits the information was inaccurate. Spokeo’s defense in the case is that they should not be sued because Robins can’t prove that he was injured as a result of the inaccurate information being posted. Robins claims he has suffered an obvious injury— Spokeo negligently posted inaccurate information about him on their website. The Supreme Court’s task is to decide whether this is a concrete enough injury to grant Robins standing in federal court to have his case heard.

The outcome of this case is worth keeping an eye on. If inaccurate information is ever posted about you online, whether you can sue will largely depend on the outcome of this case. If consumers cannot get into federal court when inaccurate information is posted about them, what recourse will they have? The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 2.

[1] First, it must be said, state tort laws do provide a remedy in certain cases. Causes like defamation, libel, and slander have been around long before the Internet. But these dated common law actions are limited, and in many cases, unhelpful when inaccurate information about you is posted online.

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