California versus Facebook

Social Networking Privacy Act aims to enforce some major changes to the way social networks deal with privacy

Facebook settings

SB 242 wants your default choice regarding privacy settings to be much more locked down.

With Facebook under continued fire for privacy issues (the latest involving Symantec’s revelation that advertisers ‘accidentally’ had access to users’ accounts through third-party applications), the state of California’s decided it’s had enough. Through a bill entitled the Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242), it aims to force Facebook and other social networking sites to make major changes to the way they deal with privacy.

First and foremost, the bill aims to eradicate passivity from privacy settings, defaulting to a locked-down state rather than open; additionally, it says users must be made very aware during the ‘installation process’ about said settings: “The bill would require a social networking Internet Web site to establish a process for new users to set their privacy settings as part of the registration process that explains privacy options in plain language, and to make privacy settings available in an easy-to-use format.”

More controversially, the bill also aims to provide parents with powers to deal with and remove content on their children’s accounts: “The bill would require a social networking Internet Web site to remove the personal identifying information, as defined, of any registered user, and would require removal of that information regarding a user under 18 years of age upon request by the user’s parent, within 48 hours upon his or her request”. The penalty for “each willful and knowing violation” would be up to $10,000.

Facebook opposes the legislation and has been meeting with California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who introduced the bill, arguing that it threatens the company’s business in California. Critics also argue that state-based legislation makes little sense, since the internet makes geographical borders irrelevant. However, with privacy being a thorny issue and the bill running with the ‘think of the children’ angle, it’s possible federal legislation may be the ultimate result of SB 242, which could impact social networking on a global scale, given that where the US leads, other countries often follow.