Social Paws or Arrested Pa’s?

Speaking of Social commerce, did you know that one in 10 UK pets has a profile on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Many within the U.S. have also set up a profile for their pet. Although, it is hard to determine how many pets are signed up on Facebook, it appears that at least several thousand pets, including dogs and cats along with less common pets such as birds, hamsters, ferrets, turtles, fish and rabbits are signed up. In fact, some animals are believed to be even more popular than some celebrities using Facebook.

Pet ownership and pet industries appear to be recession proof and continue to be one of the fastest growing and thriving industries. Due in part to the pet owner’s devotion, there appears to be a growing number who pose as their pet on social networks including, signing into the social networks and posting updates, videos and other stories about what is going on. While it is understood that most (?) of these posts are being made on behalf of the pet, Facebook doesn’t like it. In fact these owners are violating Facebook’s terms and condition and according at least one legal interpretation, they are committing a crime.

Facebook and other social network sites do not allow someone to create multiple accounts or create an account which impersonates anyone or anything. This means, Facebook doesn’t allow fake profiles for pets. Facebook users must provide their real names and information. In addition, users of Facebook must not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than themselves without permission and must not create more than one personal profile.

As part of the Terms and Conditions of a website, these statements are part of a contract, addressing what users of the website have permission to do and what type of access to the website is authorized. This is effectively a contract agreement, which is being violated by the creation of false or ficticious accounts.

The pet owners actions, while a breach of the agreement between the website user and the website owner, doesn’t seem like criminal action. Therefore, you might be asking where does the criminal part come into play. Well the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (CFAA) specifically provides that one who accesses a computer in violation of a websites terms and conditions may be criminally liable for their actions. This means that if someone violates the terms and conditions of a website, they may be liable, criminally, for their breach. In U.S. v. Lori Drew, 259 F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009) a mom was found guilty for violating Myspace’s terms by creating an false Myspace account. However, the Judge overturned the finding stating that allowing a violation of a website’s Terms of Service to constitute an violation of CFAA would “result in transforming the [relevant section of the CFAA] into an overwhelmingly overbroad enactment that would convert a multitude of otherwise innocent Internet users into misdemeanant criminals.”

Therefore, while Facebook doesn’t like it that these four-legged friends are finding widespread attention on social networks, it is unlikely that anyone will be bringing criminal charges against these pet friendly advocates.