Big Tech Fights Big Government Over Proposed California Privacy Bill
Recommended by elsterama on May 17, 2011 via ReadWriteWeb
Big Tech is fighting Big Government in California over a proposed privacy bill that would limit the amount of information that companies can share about their users. A coalition of tech companies including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Match.com, Twitter and others sent a letter to the California senate May 16 opposing the bill, saying it is unnecessary and would be detrimental to the tech industry and thus to California's economy.
Proposed by Sen. Ellen Corbett, the bill would force social networks to institute default settings upon registration of what users share on the services. Users can opt to share more information than the default, which would only list the users city of residence. Tech companies are fighting on the basis that the bill is Draconian an unintuitive and that, as an industry, technology can do better than the California legislature.
The coalition contends that the bill, California SB 242, would violate the U.S. and California constitutions First Amendment (California Article 1) regarding free speech.
"Social Networking Privacy Act would establish a barrier between an existing California user of a social networking site and her ability to continue speaking as desired," the coalition wrote. "By hiding from view of all existing usersʼ information until they made a contrary choice, the State of California would be significantly limiting those users ability to "freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects."
The coalition calls the proposals in SB 242 "privacy shrink wrap." The companies contend that the bill would "force users to make decisions about privacy and visibility of all their information well before they have ever used the service." They say that users would quickly click through the registration privacy options without giving it critical thought. A better way, the coalition thinks, is "contextual" privacy where users decide what can be shared on a case-by-case basis and cites the Federal Trade Commission as calling it a best practice in social sharing. Hence, privacy for users would, in theory, decrease under SB 242.
Unnecessary & Unwanted?
The coalition cites research by Pew Internet and American Life Project that says that most social network users who care about privacy are active in controlling their settings, either for more or less visibility. The bill also proposes a $10,000 fine to Internet companies who do not take down personally identifiable information of users within 48 hours if requested. The coalition says that only 8% of social networking users have ever asked for personal information to be taken down.
The letter closes by saying the discussion of online privacy is an important one, but the California law is inadequate and potentially harmful to the state.
"Rather than establishing a floor for online privacy which social networking sites must meet or exceed, SB 242 would establish a ceiling, undermining meaningful consumer choice while incentivizing this growing industry to expand their operations anywhere but California," the coalition wrote.
The argument between the state and the tech industry reminiscent of anti-logging campaigns in Northern U.S. states. Lawmakers are stuck between what could be construed as an altruistic move (saving the environment, or in this case, users' privacy) and an important industry that is the lifeblood of the local economy. In such cases there are no easy answers and the arguments become more bitter as the debate continues on.
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