Bill Demands New Privacy Laws for Social Networks

Dennis Faas's picture

A proposed new law under debate in the California senate would make drastic changes to the way social networks handle user privacy. It would mean sites like Facebook would have to maximize their privacy settings as a default.

Under the proposals, social networking sites would have to allow users to set privacy levels at the time of registration, explaining the various options "in plain language." This would have to include a clear explanation of exactly which categories of people and businesses would be able to see information. (Source:

Full Control Over Information

By default, a new account would have to be set to only publicly display the user's name and city; displaying any other details or information could only be done where the user actively asked for this to happen.

Were a site to then display information without consent, the user could demand it was hidden. If the site did not comply with this demand within 48 hours, it could be fined $10,000.

Parental Power Boosted By Proposed Bill

Under the proposals, sites would also have to allow limited parental access to their children's accounts. The parent would be given the power to demand that sites take down information, comments or photographs from the child's public page. Sites would again have 48 hours to comply or face a $10,000 fine. (Source:

If the bill became law in its current form, it's likely there would be substantial debate over its interpretation.

For example, Facebook has regularly been accused of changing default settings on existing accounts to make more information publicly available, which doesn't appear to be covered by the proposal. People already have the right to overturn such changes; the problem is that they are often unaware of the changes.

Another problem is that what counts as a publicly available page isn't always clear. It appears the precise wording of the current bill would only apply where a page is literally available to any Internet user. That doesn't cover situations where users have a page set to "friends of friends," meaning the information is restricted but can still be viewed by a wide range of people, many of whom the user does not know.

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