This will be a tough article to write, but someone needs to say this. If you are accused as a John Doe Defendant in a bittorrent lawsuit, your first step needs to be to make your identity online disappear.
I would use politically correct terminology such as “manage your online presence,” but simply quite frankly, “disappearing” yourself and making your online presence go away is probably the most effective thing that you can do in order to avert the attention of the copyright trolls to other John Doe Defendants. If they cannot find you online, then they will not know how to pressure you to pay them their extortion settlement amounts.
This is obviously not well known or else we all would do it, but quite frankly, everything you do online is tracked these days. Marketing companies, commercial websites such as common as Amazon.com, social networking websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Myspace, Google+, etc. all track you by 1) the information you provide them, and 2) by your activities. Have you ever wondered why you can log onto so many sites using your Facebook login? Is this because they are being nice or because they are recording your search habits to create massive portfolios all about YOU. Even when you are smart and you manage your privacy settings in these sites, they still tell volumes about you and your friends without your permission. And, even when you lock everything down, there are still companies who create profiles on you based on your credit card transactions, where you register your driver’s license, and where you choose to keep your body (e.g., where your smart phone’s GPS logs the location associated with your cell phone provider’s account).
Quite frankly the lack of privacy we have is staggering, and what little we can do to protect ourselves online we should do. And, for the inevitable volumes of data that are compiled on each of us without our permission, there are mechanisms in place to remove yourself from their databases. Since much of this is online, removal in many cases is instant, and it is worth the effort and time to do this (even if you are not accused in a lawsuit).
Just a few days ago, there was a LifeHacker article entitled, “AdjustYourPrivacy Locks Down Your Entire Internet Life from One Page,” where Lifehacker discussed a website — http://www.adjustyourprivacy.com — which has buttons that you can click on to manage your online privacy. The website has essentially five steps (detailed below), and I suggest that each one of you visit this page and work through the links on the site.
STEP 1: ADJUST THE PRIVACY SETTINGS ON THE SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES YOU ARE ON.
This is a bit complicated, but the amount of information about you that you can prevent from being leaked to the world is staggering. I am not advocating closing down your Facebook or your LinkedIn accounts, although in my opinion this is the best option, especially for those of you who take pictures and videos of yourselves when you are at a bar after a few drinks. I am also not advocating making yourself invisible to your friends, but I do think that you should be vigilant to make sure you actually know the people who are your friend, because for all you know, a plaintiff attorney can look at one social network of yours where you have 800 friends and choose a buddy of yours from that account and do a friend request which most people will approve and click “okay” without thinking twice or investigating who is really “friending” them. This is called social engineering and is outside the scope of this article.
What I AM suggesting here is taking the time to read the privacy options and setting your privacy settings to avoid outside “non-friends” from seeing your posts or your profile. I would also obviously shut down all applications “apps” linked to your account which often report everything you do to the companies I am discussing in this article. Take “Angry Birds,” “Farmville,” or any of the online free games as an example. Did you ever wonder why these game are free and what they report about you? Did you think they merely show banner ads to you? Or are they also installing cookies and do they stay resident on your machine after you close the game watching and reporting your every move? I am not being paranoid here, I am merely telling you to be smart.
STEP 2: LOOK YOURSELF UP ON THE SAME WEBSITES THAT YOUR PLAINTIFF COPYRIGHT TROLLS PROBABLY USE.
STEP 3: REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE COMMERCIAL DATABASES WHICH HAVE BEEN BUILT BASED ON YOUR ACTIVITIES AND YOUR PUBLIC RECORDS.
You’ll notice that to do a full search, many of these services charge a subscription fee which no doubt your plaintiff attorneys pay. You’ll also notice that there are likely MULTIPLE RECORDS on you based on the many places you have lived in the past. Don’t just look for your current information and your current e-mail. Dig a bit.
STEP 4: DO SOME RESEARCH ONLINE ABOUT THE OTHER TOOLS TO SHUT DOWN ACCOUNTS YOU DO NOT USE AND TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY.
STEP 5: LEARN TO BROWSE ANONYMOUSLY AND TO PROTECT YOUR INTERNET TRACKS:
Even though everything that I blog about and everything that I post online is not done anonymously, if I was not an attorney helping clients accused in these bittorrent cases, I would certainly be anonymous.
When I surf the web, I do it anonymously. When I make financial transactions, I always make sure I am using SSL or a secure and encrypted connection. When I browse my personal e-mail or even check the news, I do it using VPN software and if this is not feasible, I use a custom browser (e.g., JonDoFox) on top of my Firefox browser for complete protection. I also always have OpenDNSCrypt running (which in my opinion doesn’t do much, but for whatever it is worth, I have it running because I am not paranoid, but I am not giving the ISPs (who also collect information on you) data on me if I don’t have to). I also encrypt my drives on all my computers and regularly clean traces of my activities on my computer. That way, if my computer is taken at an airport, or if for some reason I am accused of something (e.g., copyright troll tries to get MY computer to learn about a client), everything is encrypted. This is simply a responsible and prudent thing to do. With everything I have written here, in my opinion, it is irresponsible NOT to be vigilant with your private information.
All this being said, there is a lot about me which is still online. But what you see online, chances are that I LET IT BE ONLINE knowing that many will see it.
STEP 6: IF YOU ARE NAMED IN A LAWSUIT, DO EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT I HAVE DESCRIBED ABOVE AND FLOOD THE INTERNET WITH INFORMATION YOU WANT THE INTERNET TO KNOW ABOUT IT.
This is probably the most important point, and it is counterintuitive. If you are named in a lawsuit, eventually a site such as RFC Express (http://www.rfcexpress.com) or other legal docket websites will index your name and search engines will post it online making it obvious to employers and peers that you have been implicated in a lawsuit, sometimes for embarrassing content.
While overtly saying this is outside the scope of this article, it is probably a good idea to create as much content as you can (e.g., join social networking sites, and “manage your online presence”) to BURY the lawsuit (e.g., 12 pages in) so that when someone searches for your name on a search engine, the lawsuit will not show up. That way, your involvement in this lawsuit will not hurt your future chances for employment, or for your business to get contract with customers, etc.
If you are named in a lawsuit, my opinion is that you should not only TAKE DOWN the information about yourself in STEPS 1-5 that I have outlined above, but you should SET UP SOCIAL NETWORKING ACCOUNTS AS POSSIBLE, FILLING IT WITH CONTENT THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT YOU.
I cannot say this strong enough. You need to protect your privacy, and if you are involved in a lawsuit where opposing counsel is a copyright troll, a patent troll, or anyone who will want to use the information online against you to solicit or extort large sums of money from you, it is wise to protect yourself and manage your online profile. I hope this helps.
CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.
NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together. That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.