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Snapchat, which achieved notoriety for its disappearing picture messaging app, has pulled off a different kind of vanishing act, but this time in court. The app company was being sued as a result of their speed filter for photos that the plaintiffs alleged encourages unsafe driving. Snapchat managed to have the case against it dismissed recently via a court motion, although the driver that caused the car accident while Snapchat-ing was not so fortunate and remains in the lawsuit.
Snapchat's speed filter works by overlaying the speed a person is traveling on top of their snap (or photo). In the lawsuit, the injured driver plaintiff alleged that the defendant driver that caused the accident was not only using the Snapchat app at the time of the accident, but was deliberately speeding in order to take pictures using the speed filter showing a high rate speed.
Although Snapchat claims that they warn users not to "snap" and drive, the plaintiffs were seeking to hold the app maker liable, particularly because there have been other dangerous accidents caused by the irresponsible use of this particular filter and Snapchat had been put on notice of the dangers.
Snapchat was found to be immune from liability on the basis of a 20-year-old law that is making lawyers wonder exactly how this decision was reached. The law in question is the Communications Decency Act, which is less formally known as the Great Internet Sex Panic Act, because when it was passed it prohibited more than just obscene content from being shared, but even indecent content, under the guise of protecting children from the evils on the internet.
As part of the act, online service providers were given immunity for the content posted by the service's users. This means that an internet service provider, like GoDaddy for example, that provides businesses and individuals with internet hosting space to put up their websites, will not be liable for the content one of their service users posts on their website.
The CDA immunity explicitly states that GoDaddy is not the publisher of its user's content, and is immune from liability for what its users publish using their service. Shockingly, somehow the court found that this immunity provision of the CDA applied to the negligence claim against Snapchat for distributing an app they knew to be dangerous.
While plaintiffs are considering an appeal, this decision has the potential to make waves throughout the industry as device and app makers are facing more legal challenges than ever stemming from distracted driving lawsuits.
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