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California to legislate social networking privacy..maybe.

On May 29, 2011, in Social Networking, States, by Jorge Espinosa

Concern for social networking privacy is driving state governments to provide legislation to fill gaps not yet addressed by federal laws.  These regional solutions, rather than creating a safer social networking experience, may simply subject corporations to a minefield of local requirements.california flag

In the latest such proposed law, new proposed legislation is working its way through the California legislative system.  The Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242), should it become law will provide the following key restrictions:

  • A social networking site may not show publicly any user information other than name and city of the user without the consent of the user.
  • Privacy settings must be set at the time of the account creation.
  • Identifying information must be removed upon request of the user or, if the user is younger than 18, of his or her parents within 48 hours.

The law provides civil penalties of $10,000 per violation.

Well-known social networking companies such as Facebook and Twitter oppose this legislation.  On May 16, 2011, the California Chamber of Commerce joined Facebook, Google, Twitter, Skype, eHarmony,, and Yahoo in signing an open letter to the sponsor of the bill voicing their opposition.

The letter argues that by requiring users to make a broad privacy determination before the use and become familiar with the service, most users will click through rather than making an informed decision.  It challenges that the bill singles out social networking sites from all other online sites and suggests that it will have a chilling effect on California’s e-commerce.  Finally, the group of companies threatens to file challenges to the law under the US and California constitutions, particularly singling out the commerce clause of the US constitution.

This strong opposition has already had an effect as the bill stalled on the senate floor this past Friday, May 27, 2011, by a 16-16 vote.  The vote drew supporters and opponents from both sides of the aisle.  Notwithstanding this initial defeat, the bill’s sponsor, Ellen Corbett (D), will bring it up for a vote again next week.