Social sites ban together to oppose California Social Networking Privacy Act

coalitionProposed legislation in California is seeking to give parents increased access to their children’s social networking accounts while simultaneously requiring sites like Facebook to seriously alter their privacy settings. SB 242, or the Social Networking Privacy Act, spearheaded by Senator Ellen Corbett, would require social sites to fundamentally reformat how they operate and share information. “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,’” Corbett says. In short, your profile and all of its accompanying personal information would be private by default and you would select what would be public, a complete 180 to how most social sites currently operate.

Facebook responded, calling the legislation a “serious threat.” Today, the site has taken action and partnered with industry heavyweights including Google, Twitter, Zynga,, Skype, eHarmoney, and Yahoo to formally oppose the bill. A letter from the coalition addressed SB 242’s various concerns, and here we break down some of the legaliese to decipher what Facebook and its industry cohorts are saying.

“SB 242 would establish a ceiling, undermining meaningful consumer choice while incentivizing this growing industry to expand their operations anywhere but California.”

This is, more or less, a thinly veiled threat to the state. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are synonymous with social networking sites and are the home of most of the big names in the industry, including Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. These companies know how much money and prestige they’ve generated for the state as well as the innovation they’ve spurred and brought there, and they won’t be restricted. Try to hamper their plans and they will relocate somewhere that won’t. The letter also hints this legislation would cause “significant damage to California’s vibrant Internet commerce industry at a time when the state can least afford it.” Translation: Drop it, or else.

“A common just-in-time, contextual privacy notice on a popular social networking site has fewer than forty words, describes exactly the information to be shared and with whom, and is easily understood by a layperson.”

Basically, the coalition is telling backers of SB 242 it knows what it’s doing. The bill requests that such sites more thoroughly explain their privacy policies and do so before a user begins the registration process. “A description of all availability privacy and visibility options to a consumer who has never used the service in question could take thousands of words and up to half an hour to read.” And who’s going to read through all of that? Not very many people. Facebook recently has attempted to take the legal-speak out of its Terms of Service, as it found most people would only glaze these policies and find the jargon too overwhelming and the pages too many. This type of format scares off users, the coalition argues, and should they implement the legislation’s requests users will take less action in their privacy, or forgo these options altogether.

“The major social networking sites already remove personal information when the requestor specifies the information to be removed and the information is not already widely available.”

The header of the section this statement falls under says it all: “SB 242 is unnecessary.” It sounds like the coalition is telling the bill’s proponents they should have checked their facts a little better. Part of the bill states that social networking sites would remove information requested of them within 48 hours of the request being issue, and particularly pertains to parents of minors with accounts that want information about their children removed. According to the letter of opposition, there is currently no issue with this. Such requests are almost being granted, and the penalty the bill would impose for not meeting the exact demands – $10,000 – is wildly outlandish.

Lawmakers have attempted to curb the reach and capabilities of social networking sites, largely unsuccessful. The scope of SB 242 is so wide, it’s likely to find a similar fate.

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