Monday, December 4, 2017

This Case Makes It Harder to Bash Your Employer Online Anonymously

Bashing your employer anonymously online likely has become harder thanks to a recent case out of Arizona. The case involved Glassdoor, a website which allows employees to post anonymous reviews about their employers. Glassdoor initially refused to turn over information asked for by the federal government, which is investigating a contractor’s possible defrauding of the Veterans’ Administration (“VA”). This information included the usernames, email addresses, IP addresses, and even the credit card information of users who claimed that the contractor was overcharging the VA.

Glassdoor refused to turn over this information because it argued that doing so would violate users’ First Amendment rights of anonymous speech and freedom of anonymous association. The court rejected both of these arguments. It found that the government sought this user information in good faith, as it was necessary for the investigation they were conducting. It rejected Glassdoor’s argument that refusing to turn over the information protected the anonymous association rights of the users because they never associated with one another in the first place. The users do not even know who one another is by virtue of their use of Glassdoor. This is different from private associations like the Boy Scouts and Jaycees who have a common purpose and message.

The court also found that Glassdoor’s privacy policy (which I’m sure the users read) made it clear that the users should not have expected to post in complete anonymity. It stated that Glassdoor would disclose data if it believed that the disclosure was necessary.

Whether a website has the right to keep their users’ identities private has been a contentious issue for the last few years. This is the first case of which I am aware in which a court has ordered the names of employees criticizing their employer to be disclosed. Pretty much every court which has looked at this issue has held that there is no absolute right to anonymous online posts, and that user identities and even personal information can be disclosed if they would aid in a law enforcement investigation. So, employees, and really any internet user, should be careful about what they post online, even if it is done anonymously.