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Only days after Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang signed on to a NetCoalition privacy scheme with a group of e-CEOs calling for "robust, visible and comprehensive" on-line privacy policies, a Yahoo! user filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that his privacy had been severely compromised.

The lawsuit, filed with the US District Court in Los Angeles, was brought by "Aquacool_2000," a Yahoo! user whose personal information was allegedly disclosed to former employer AnswerThink Consulting, which took issue with several of the man's posts.

Aquacool_2000's lawsuit has backing from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC). The suit claims that Aqacool_2000 and numerous other Yahoo! users have seen their personal details forwarded to third parties without advance notice.

Yahoo! routinely answers subpoenas for information on those making objectionable posts without notifying the subject of the subpoena. EPIC and the ACLU hold that Yahoo!, or any other ISP or portal, should be obligated to notify users of subpoenas and so give them an opportunity to challenge the requests.

In this case, plaintiff AnswerThink claimed that several of Aquacool_2000's posts were defamatory and persuaded Yahoo! to reveal his identity, then sacked him and sued for damages.

Microsoft and AOL both give users a heads up so they can fight subpoenas for their identities. Yahoo! says their users should not expect the same level of privacy protection because people can use their chat rooms free of charge.

Civil rights, apparently, cost money on the Web.

The rather disingenuous NetCoalition letter, signed by Yahoo!'s Yang and others including AOL's Steve Case and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, is posted here. Its chief purpose, obviously, is to bamboozle such regulatory bodies as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), lest they involve themselves in privacy issues on behalf of the populace. ®

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