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April Fools’ Pranks: Business Liability Issues?

April Fools’ Pranks: Business Liability Issues?

April Fools' pranks are fun -- but what are the associated liability risks? Find out here.

Friday, January 10, 2014/Categories: business-liability-insurance

Of all the reasons to love the Internet, one of the most charming is its open-armed embrace of April Fools' Day. Every year, major technology companies use the holiday to make users laugh, poke fun at their competitors, and generally inject some levity into their daily operations.

Today, Google made headlines with its introduction of the fictitious "Google Nose," an online database of millions of smells that users can browse. Samsung announced an "eco-tree," which helps improve the environment by running on light and releasing oxygen into the environment (spoiler alert: it's just a tree, and Samsung did NOT invent it). And YouTube proclaimed that its last eight years of operations were a contest to find the best video on the Internet, and that it will be shutting down and spending the next decade choosing the best of the best.

The list goes on - but not all of the techie pranks are easy to spot.

Here at TechInsurance, we noticed one that hasn't showed up in news stories about today's best Internet gags. While monitoring our site traffic, we saw that more than half of our current visitors were attributed to the International Space Station (see image)!

Cyber Risks Associated with April Fools' Pranks?

Of course, being a technology insurance company, we're intrigued by April Fools' pranks not just because of their entertainment value: we have to think about the business risks involved. So before you launch your cleverest prank, consider these potential liability issues…

  • False advertising liability: While the general attitude toward Internet pranks seems to be one of understanding and camaraderie, you shouldn't assume that your clients and prospects are in on the joke. In other words, don't launch a fake product or service if you aren't 100% sure your contacts will know you're joking. All it takes is a single disgruntled (or embarrassed) person to sue you for false advertising, and you could face serious legal expenses as you scramble to defend yourself.
  • Personal injury liability: Bing's obvious April Fools' dig at Google will most likely not lead to any legal action: after all, Google's a search engine giant, while Bing is a significant underdog. But among less well-established competitors, flagrant mockery might incite the injured party to sue the prankster for personal injuries. To keep your assets safe, avoid pranks that involve making fun of your competitors.
  • Errors & Omissions liability: While an E&O suit over an April Fools' prank is perhaps even less likely than one claiming false advertising, it's not inconceivable that a dissatisfied customer could claim that you failed to provide promised services - even if you were promising them in jest. And if such a suit did arise, you could be held liable.

The bottom line? Know your audience. Legal disclaimers might help mitigate your risks if you feel you must play an April Fools' trick, but ultimately your business goals and customer base should be the most important factors in determining whether or not your instigate any pranks.

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