Earthlink off the hook in phishing-alert case

The well-known Internet service provider Earthlink offered its customers a free service to protect from “phishing” scams by alerting users to potentially fraudulent websites. The service redirected users who are attempting to visit a suspicious site to a Scam Alert page, asking the user to “not continue to this potentially risky site.”

Plaintiff Associated Bank-Corp operated an online banking site which mistakenly ended up on Earthlink’s list of potentially fraudulent sites. Although Associated Bank’s site was legitimate, visitors using Earthlink were presented with the Scam Alert page. Associated Bank filed suit in federal court against Earthlink alleging various tort and fraud claims.

Earthlink filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act shielded it from liability. This portion of the Act provides immunity for interactive computer services that publish information received from third party information providers. The court granted Earthlink’s motion for summary judgment.

It held that a reasonable trier of fact could not infer that Earthlink, by providing the alert service, was an information content provider. Instead, the evidence before the court demonstrated that third-party vendors identified potentially fraudulent sites, and that such information was directly input into a database without any alteration by Earthlink. Accordingly, because the information came from another provider, Earthlink could not be liable for the republication of untrue statements about Associated bank.

Associated Bank-Corp. v. Earthlink, Inc., 2005 WL 2240952 (W.D. Wis., September 13, 2005)(Not selected for official publication).

More coverage at Professor Goldman’s blog.