California legislators are considering a bill that would require Facebook and other social networking sites to restructure their privacy policies. The bill, if passed, would have a significant impact on new users and on all users younger than 18.
Facebook, unsurprisingly, is not in favor of it.
Introduced May 2 by the California Senate’s majority leader, Ellen Corbett, the Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242) would have a two-pronged impact on any social networking site, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or a dating website, that enables users to build a public profile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
First, new users to social networking sites would establish their privacy settings upon registering, instead of after joining.
"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, a Democrat from San Leandro, told the Chronicle.
Currently, all it takes to join Facebook is an email address, and the site's default settings make certain information, including interests, photos and biographical information, available to everyone. Under the new law, social networking sites would have to configure their default settings to "private." They also would be forced to explain their privacy policies in "plain language."
In addition to restructuring the registration process for fledgling Facebookers, the bill could dramatically alter the social networking experience of younger users.
If SB 242 passes, social-networking sites would have to remove any personally identifiable information — including name, address, photos, videos and mother's maiden name — of any user under 18 at the request of the user's parent.
Failure to comply within 48 hours would subject the offending site to a fine of $10,000 "for each willful and knowing violation of these provisions," the bill reads.
While the new legislation is intended to help new social networkers avoid serious privacy pitfalls, any proposal to tighten the government's reins on the Internet is bound to draw fervent opposition.
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the law challenges the very nature of the social Internet experience.
"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 consumers' choices about use of personal data," Noyes told the Chronicle.