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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).

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Attorney answers 3

Posted

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.

Asker

Posted

What if I forced them to re-enter their password to see any address, for extra security? I'm aware of the server thing, but since I'm hoping this will hit it off I don't want to make more work for myself by doing things manually....and if I do it manually that brings up all sorts of things and causes addresses to be stored unencrypted and multiple times.

Posted

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

Asker

Posted

I don't want to do that because the address will be stored multiple times, and be unencrypted. I'd rather it be stored once and encrypted, and have two people say yes to sharing it....virtually the same thing. Besides that I want it to be a feature, not just something members do in the background :).

Posted

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.

Asker

Posted

That's a good point for sure. I can get more members to join with the Pen Pal idea because it seems to be something fairly uncommon if done physically. I was hoping to investigate how others may be doing it but came up blank which is why I asked here. I think I definitely need to see someone who specializes in internet laws before pursuing it though because it's definitely a touchy subject.