California Pushes for Tightened Social Network Privacy Controls

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When you first opened your Facebook account, you may or may not have noticed that much of your private information was set to be shared by default. Your name, status, photos, posts, bio and relationships are automatically made public when you first start a Facebook account, and it’s up to you to go into your personal settings and scale back what’s publicly viewable to others.

But a new law being proposed in California would make it so that it’d be up to Californians to make certain aspects of their profiles public, instead of having to proactively make them private as is the case currently.

The bill has been proposed by Democratic Senator Ellen Corbett, who said, “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,’” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The details of the proposal would apply to any social networking sites seeking to operate inside California and would carry a $10,000 fine for each “willful violation” from any site that’s privacy controls weren’t “explained in ‘plain language’” when users sign up for new accounts.

Says the Chronicle:

“Under the proposal, SB242, social-networking sites would have to allow users to establish their privacy settings – like who could view their profile and what information would be public to everyone on the Internet – when they register to join the site instead of after they join. Sites would also have to set defaults to private so that users would choose which information is public.”

A spokesperson for an industry trade group that includes Facebook, Google, and dating sites eHarmony and Match.com contends that such a law “would force users to make decisions about privacy and visibility of all information well before they even used the service for the first time, and in such a manner that they are less likely to pay attention and process the information.”

And Republican Senator Sam Blakeslee criticized the bill, pointing out that a single employee at any given social networking company who willfully violated the proposed law could ultimately rack up billions of dollars in fines for his or her company. That could ultimately make it less enticing for such businesses to operate inside California. Blakeslee also said, “I think it is certainly something that should be addressed at the national level. That’s the appropriate place to deal with Internet laws.”

Several big-name California-based technology companies sent an official letter opposing the bill to Senator Corbett, saying that the law “would significantly undermine the ability of Californians to make informed and meaningful choices about use of their personal data, and unconstitutionally interfere with the right to free speech enshrined in the California and United States Constitutions, while doing significant damage to California’s vibrant Internet commerce industry at a time when the state can least afford it.”

You can view the entire letter here. The companies that signed the letter include Facebook, Google, Twitter, Skype, Match.com, eHarmony, Yahoo, Zynga and others.

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