Facebook And The iPad May Be No Match For Johnny Law

A pair of bills would regulate the way you use your favorite tech.

police car with warning lights on


A new proposed law in California would slap tougher privacy restrictions on Facebook and its ilk. If the bill became a law, SB242 would force Facebook and others to allow users to alter their privacy settings as they join the site, rather than after. It would enforce private settings as the default, and it would fine social networks $10,000 for infractions of the law. News of the law (via The San Francisco Chronicle) comes shortly after last week’s embarrassing admission on Facebook’s part that it had hired a PR firm to impugn Google‘s privacy practices.

The California bill was authored by Senator Ellen Corbett, a Democrat of San Leandro. A previous version of bill applied only to people under 18; Corbett has since expanded the language to include all users of social networking sites. “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 said, according to the Chronicle.

Reminiscent of last week’s PR dust-up, Corbett has accused Facebook of underhanded tactics in opposition to her bill. She told the Chronicle that a company lobbyist was passing out talking points against the measure to committee members before a hearing. Corbett characterized this as “stealth opposition.” A code of conduct among lobbyists in California calls upon those who oppose a bill to directly inform the officeholder proposing the bill of their opposition.

Facebook strongly contests Corbett’s characterization. “We’re pretty confused about the claims around the ‘stealth campaign,'” Facebook’s manager of public policy, Andrew Noyes, tells Fast Company. “We’ve been in almost constant contact with the relevant folks.” Noyes says Facebook met face to face with Corbett and other members of the Judiciary Committee, had half a dozen meetings with Corbett and her staff, invited Corbett to headquarters in Palo Alto, and called her the day before the recent hearing.

Opponents of Corbett’s bill, which include groups like the Internet Alliance (of which Google and Facebook are both members), say that by forcing users to make privacy decisions before they’ve even used the service, Corbett’s law might actually decrease privacy.

California isn’t the only state considering reining in technology run amok this week. In Honolulu, it might soon become illegal to cross the street while using your iPad (or other devices). It’s an extension of the city’s existing ban on texting-while-driving. The bill just cleared the city council. Pretty soon, in Hawaii, you won’t just have to avoid jaywalking, but iWalking, too.


[Image: Flickr user Scott Davidson]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal