Social media privacy: Insurance companies want access to your Facebook

The first thing the insurance lawyers will do in court is to ask plaintiffs if they have Facebook accounts and demand a court order to review those accounts.

Any town U.S.A. You walk into a store and notice someone you recognize, from Facebook. But you really don't know the individual; only online have you "met" that person. You have shared a note, or played a game on Facebook, Myspace, or other media website. You can choose to say hello or ignore them. That choice is up to you.

Sometime in the future, you wind up in a car accident and suffer physical injuries that you decide can be claimed in a lawsuit against the insurance company. Now your friends on Facebook may not have any choice of getting to know you up close and in person. You may not even be aware that they are being questioned.

Insurance companies are beginning to demand access to information about you and they do not want your explicit consent. In a Globe and Mail report, the insurance industry wants to use sites such as Facebook to collect and use background information collected to contradict any evidence you have used in your claim for damages.

The first thing the insurance lawyers will do in court is to ask plaintiffs if they have Facebook accounts and demand a court order to review those account -- even if you have always had your privacy settings configured to be not searchable by Google or other services. And if somehow they find out that you are on Facebook and you said no, chances are your lawsuit against the insurance company may fail. And so  the game begins. The lawyers will have access to everything about you; your friends are also now exposed and may be questioned about your online habits what you are doing online, personal messages are read and now your friend's privacy is also vulnerable - even if you have never met them in person.

The courts have had electronic document evidence used in the past. The issue of relevancy in a civil suit is new and poses new problems for the courts. So far ,decisions have gone in both directions. The Globe and Mail writes;

Her insurer, Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Co. of Canada, looking for evidence that might contradict her story, went to a Brampton, Ont., courtroom last summer. Without her knowledge, Royal & Sun asked a judge to order that she preserve the contents and photos on her Facebook page, and then hand them over, including the parts of her page was set to "private" that could only be viewed by her 67 approved friends.

In October, Mr. Justice David Price denied the insurer's request, ruling that Royal & Sun had failed to prove the page included relevant material, such as photos showing Ms. Schuster engaged in physical activities.

"There are many good reasons unrelated to litigation that people may have to withdraw documents from their friends' view," the judge writes. "Their right to do so should not be lightly interfered with."

And you thought the Internet world was making your life more enjoyable. How you manage information on Facebook, Google Buzz, Myspace account information may have unforeseen future consequences.