Privacy Legislated: Facebook Leads Charge Against Stringent Privacy Bill

by Jeff Wiener on May 19, 2011

It’s good to know that Facebook and Google can agree on one thing, increased privacy restrictions are bad for business and for the future of mobile and social networking technologies.

When I wrote last week’s post I certainly never intended to make the issue of privacy into an ongoing saga, but with the news that the social networking giant has teamed with the search engine behemoth to oppose BillSB 242,” California’s so-called privacy legislation, it just seemed to all be working to prove my point.

In an increasingly technological world the simple fact is, the distinguishing line between public and private is no longer clear. Whether its due to ignorance, evidenced by the plethora of Facebook users that post incriminating and/or overtly private information and photos on their page, or apathy, evidenced by the fact that most users seem too lazy to be bothered with privacy settings, modern social technology demands our personal information, and so if we want a future that involves social networking, we better be prepared to let that information go.

Which leads me to the question, who is utlimately responsible for your privacy?

I’ll admit, on a personal level this entire conversation seems to tear me in two. As a father, I want to protect my family from the inherent dangers of overexposure on social networking sites, yet I fully understand that in some spheres, like that of a smartphone, relinquishing some of my personal information is necessary to allow my technology to operate as it should, as rather, as I want it too.

With that said, I can appreciate both sides of the privacy debate currently raging in California, as I can understand the complaints of Facebook, Google and their ilk who see the future of technology and advertising in intuitive and personal technology, and also understand the fears of the legislators representing a public that is quickly seeing its old notions of privacy dashed on the rocks of so-called “progress”.

As I mentioned last week, we’re at a crossroads and something’s got to give.

The California bill itself is rather stringent when viewed from a social netwokring perspective. It mandates, among other things, that users of such social networks be allowed—or forced—to choose their privacy settings as part of the initial registration process. Further, it would force sites to institute a maximum privacy default policy that would, by default, only share a user’s name and city. Finally, the bill would require social networks to delete any and all personal information upon request within 48 hours.

The question becomes, though, is this really the direction we want our technology to go in? As more and more users increasingly integrate sites like Facebook into their lives, as they become accustomed to services like Google’s Social Circle — a feature that attempts to incorporate social data in search results, will they want to be bothered with unending questions about allowing this and that, or will they simply want to use the technology to seamlessly connect with the world around them?

Truth be told, I’m starting to think the privacy debate is not much a debate at all, meaning that perhaps Facebook and Google are right when they say that their users don’t really care about more stringent privacy settings, they just want to connect with friends.

That’s not to say that I no longer value privacy, just that perhaps the onus for online privacy lies with the user, and should that user be underage, the parents. So perhaps we’re wasting our time and our efforts trying to legislate privacy, when instead we should begin educating the public about how to use technology safely and effectively.

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