Reddit is once again in the hot seat to turn over user identities - The UpStream

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Reddit is once again in the hot seat to turn over user identities

posted Sunday Jul 9, 2023 by Scott Ertz

This year has been a strange one for Reddit. The company has had to fight legal challenges that didn't involve them but has also created its own mess by changing the way the site's API works. Now, the Reddit team is back on the defensive as a new request for user identities has come from a very familiar source.

Reddit's very weird 2023

In March of 2023, the company had to fight off a legal request demanding that they unmask a few users for posts made a decade earlier. The users in question were not directly involved in the case at hand, and their posts were not directly relevant to the topic at hand. The case revolved around an internet provider, RCN, that movie studios claimed did not do enough to stop piracy on its network. Reddit fought the request and won, getting the judge to deny the request.

In June of 2023, the company made a controversial decision. Seemingly following the lead of Elon Musk at Twitter, the company announced that it would begin charging for API access. Previously, the platform had a robust and openly available API, through which many quality clients were developed. Redditers mostly preferred the clients over the native one. However, this change to the policies essentially shut down all third-party applications.

Users and moderators decided to protest the decision by turning thousands of subreddits dark (or, in this case private). A lot of the value of Reddit comes from its search engine placement, with many answers coming from Reddit posts. Many of those answers from Google and Bing were suddenly private links, hurting the brand image of the company. As of now, no reversal of policy has been announced and third-party apps no longer work.

A repeat of the past

It may be a new case, presenting a new motion, but the players are all too similar. The same movie studios from earlier in the year are suing Grande this time, and are asking the court to compel Reddit to unmask 6 users who posted in a piracy-themed subreddit dating back as early as 2011. Both RCN from the first case and Grande from the current case are currently owned by Astound Broadband. Reddit's response to the request said,

Plaintiffs' Motion seeks to unmask six anonymous Reddit users that Plaintiffs assume to have committed copyright infringement using Grande, an Internet service provider (ISP). If these Reddit users did engage in copyright infringement on Grande's networks, then Plaintiffs hope to learn whether the users were drawn to Grande for the ease of infringement. Weeks ago, this Court denied a nearly identical motion by these same Plaintiffs... But rather than returning with better facts capable of meeting the applicable First Amendment standard, Plaintiffs here offer worse facts-expressly acknowledging that they have no need to identify these Reddit users at all.

Clearly, Reddit is still looking to protect its users' privacy. The site's value is already diminished, so fighting this attack is even more important for them than last time. But, with the other court's precedent, it will likely be an easy win for Reddit in this case. For the privacy of the users', hopefully Reddit will come out on top.


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