Quebec woman's Facebook insurance battle highlights need for online prudence

MONTREAL — The case of a Quebec woman who says she lost her long-term disability benefits because of photos that appeared on Facebook should serve as a reminder that nothing on the Internet is truly private.

And a technology expert says its a perfect opportunity for people to take stock of their social networking platform profiles and just what about their life is on the net.

The Quebec woman, Nathalie Blanchard, has seen her case gain widespread attention since it came to the attention of local media last week.

Blanchard said an insurance agent told her that the long-term disability cheques were terminated after photos of her on the popular social networking website came to the attention of the insurance company.

Blanchard, 29, has been on leave since Valentine's Day 2008 from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que, battling severe depression.

The company in question, insurance giant Manulife, declined to comment on the case specifically but has said in a statement: "we would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook."

Blanchard's battle comes as another Facebook-related blunder left the Liberals dealing with controversy on the weekend after Janine Krieber, the wife of former leader Stephane Dion, posted comments of Facebook criticizing current boss Michael Ignatieff.

Carmi Levy, a technology expert says these recent incidents involving Facebook postings should serve as a reminder that nothing is truly private on the net.

"In this day and age, where everyone is a broadcaster through Twitter, Facebook or other social media, it never ceases to amaze me how unaware people are of the implications of something such as a Twitter update or a Facebook update," Levy said in a telephone interview Sunday.

"It should give pause to anyone who uses these services that anything they put online can at some point come back to bite them."

Levy, a London, Ont. based independent technology analyst, said any notion that there is privacy on these types of platforms is laughable.

"I always laugh when people trot out the words private and social media in the same sentence - nothing that you put online is private," Levy said.

"The mere fact that you have subscribed to this service and you are putting any personally identifiable information on it - whether it be text based, photos, video, audio - then you're accepting the potential at some point it will go public."

Blanchard, 29, said in a telephone interview from her home near Montreal on Sunday that she doesn't regret the photos she posted and it was poor form for the insurance company to diagnose her depression as being cured using the photographs.

But she harbours no ill will towards Facebook.

"I'm still on Facebook and I still write on Facebook, I have nothing to hide, nothing at all," Blanchard said.

She also has no issue with the photos allegedly used against her, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a beach holiday.

"I'm not going to put pictures of myself crying on Facebook," Blanchard said.

"I'm sick and I don't need everyone to know it - people who need to know I'm sick know and the other 500 (friends) I have on Facebook don't need to know I'm suffering from depression."

Her lawyer, Tom Lavin, said a civil suit was filed in Quebec Superior Court on Friday and the next court date in the case is Dec. 8.

He calls the insurance company's actions totally inappropriate and is seeking $275,000 for his client.

The issue of Facebook privacy has taken centre stage in Canada, where the site has been prompted by the federal privacy commissioner to make changes that would better protect privacy for users.

Levy said as social media continues to evolve and become even more popular, people will need to better educated about the risks they're taking.

But the best way to truly remain private?

"Stay off-line completely," Levy says.

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