A woman who lives somewhere near Dartmouth College is suing an online sex site, claiming it identified her in her area even though a nude photograph purporting to be her was not.
The woman, suing under the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” says her bogus profile had been on the site for more than a year when someone in her circle of friends told her they had believed it was her and had been discussing it.
The profile on AdultFriendFinder.com, which bills itself as the world’s largest community for sex and swingers, said she was seeking “men or women for erotic chat/e-mail/phone fantasies and discreet relationship.”
The profile was of a 40-year-old in the Upper Connecticut River Valley area who had recently separately from her husband, according to the U.S. District Court lawsuit against Friendfinder Network Inc. and Various Inc., an affiliated company.
The woman said all she knows about the creator of the bogus “petra03755” profile — created in June 2005 — is he or she did it using the computer network at Dartmouth College in Hanover, whose zip code is 03755.
A federal judge this week threw out some of the woman’s claims, saying the companies are protected by a 12-year-old federal law that protects Internet service providers and interactive sites from liability for false postings by others. U.S. District Judge Joseph Laplante’s refusal to dismiss all the claims under the Communications Decency Act was an unusual first-round victory for a plaintiff.
“We are pleased about the ruling because it sends a clear message that not all of AFF’s sleezy actions that harm innocent people enjoy (Communication Decency Act) protection,” the woman said through her lawyer, Ned Whinttington of Hanover. “This is a significant case nationwide where the court holds an (Internet Service Provider) responsible for its reckless actions.”
When the woman learned about the profile and protested to the site’s operators, they removed it. Site members trying to access it then got a message saying the woman had removed her profile.
“The plaintiff asserts that this message was itself false in communicating that she was a member of the service and that the profile had been hers in the first place,” according to the suit.
Furthermore, she said the profile, slightly modified, continued to appear for several months on the company’s other Web sites. Parts of it also appeared as “teasers” on Internet search engines and in advertisements on other sex sites, she said.
Friendfinder Network is based in Palo Alto, Calif., according to lawyer Ira Rothken, who is representing the company.
Rothken said the company was pleased with Laplante’s ruling and is optimistic about winning the next legal round.
Interactive Web sites like FriendFinder — and MySpace, eBay Inc. “cannot possibly know who’s telling the truth and who’s lying when people automatically post things to a site,” he said. If that weren’t the law, he said, “it wouldn’t allow for very important e-commerce sites like dating sites, social networking sites and search engines to even exist.”
The case is Doe v. Friendfinder et al, CV-07-286-JL.