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Can I give out peoples addresses online, assuming they give full permission each time?

Torrance, CA |

I own a website and I want to add a pen pal element to it. The problem is that I don't know what sort of legalities it would entail other than disclaimers stating we're not responsible if anything terrible happens and it's at members own risk and prerogative. My server is located in California USA and I am located in Australia, but may end up living in the states before this happens.

In order to protect myself and members I am thinking of:
1. Encrypting the addresses and forcing them to be PO boxes only, to protect peoples home addresses.
2. If person A wants to write to person B, both person A and B have to agree before either sees the address of the other person.
3. Pen pals would only be available to members who have 100 posts (as it's a community website for writers).

Attorney Answers 3


  1. ID theft is pretty common, so I really doubt anyone would want their home address published on the internet. But assuming they did agree to you posting that information, you'd need a release from them regarding any consequences from that. Your internet server agreement presumably contains a jurisdictional clause, so you could probably be sued anywhere that agreement provides, regardless of where you happen to be.

    It would seem a lot safer to simply hook prospective pen pals up privately and let them do any exchange of information that they opt to do.

    See a business lawyer to review your business operations. This may not be the only risky thing you've been doing or thinking about doing.

    Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.


  2. A better way than to post the info on line, and simpler, is just let them exchange the information between themselves.


  3. This a question that address what you must do and what you probably should do. The should is evident in your concern about having certain standards to protect people's privacy. To the extent you get consent from people for any means of direct communication you should send confirmation of that fact along with instructions on how to retract it after a certain point.

    But since you are a website with an online community, why are you talking about physical addresses anyway? Encourage them to communicate online and through your site so you get the traffic and stickiness.

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