Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Proposed Law Would Require Social Networks to be Private by Default

A proposed California law could significantly change the way social networks operate by forcing them to step up their privacy settings.

Facebook and other Internet companies oppose the proposal, which was put forward by California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) and last week made it out of committee.

The proposed law, SB 242 (full text here), would require social networks to do the following for California users:

  1. Establish default settings that prohibit the public or private display of anything other than a user’s name and city without their consent.
  2. Require new users to pick privacy settings during the registration process.
  3. Write their privacy options “in plain language” and display them in an “easy-to-use format.”
  4. Remove personally identifying information, including photos, within 48 hours of a user’s request.
  5. Pay up to $10,000 each time they fail to do any of this.

A previous version of the bill applied to children under 18, but a revision earlier this month made it much broader. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Corbett’s pitch is this: “You shouldn’t have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say, ‘Please don’t share my personal information.'”

Facebook and other Internet companies don’t like the bill, and industry groups such as the Internet Alliance and NetChoice have spoken out against it. They argue that such tightened privacy restrictions and regulatory oversight could hamstring social networks’ ability to provide valuable and safe experiences to users.

For instance, if the default settings are all private, it could be hard for new members to get value out of the sites because they won’t be found by other users.

Other opponents argue that this should be a national issue, not a state one.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes gave this statement to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Any legislative or regulatory proposal must honor users’ expectations in the contexts in which they use online services and promote the innovation that fuels the growth of the Internet economy. This legislation is a serious threat both to Facebook’s business in California and to meaningful California consumers’ choices about use of personal data.

Majority Leader Corbett is further accusing Facebook of secretly lobbying against the bill without disclosing its identity. (Sound familiar?) We’ve asked Noyes for clarification on this issue.

Update: Noyes replied: “We’re confused by the claim raised in the SF Chron story that Facebook is involved in some kind of “stealth” campaign to kill SB 242 when, as the article acknowledges, we met face-to-face with the bill’s author and every other member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to express our concerns.”

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald