Monday, May 16, 2011

Facebook "Privacy Default" Law in Play in California

Just encountered this article on California's pending SB242, which would require online networking sites to alter the information-sharing defaults in new accounts to show only the user's name and city of residence. Sharing anything else would require that the user actively change the privacy settings.

I discussed the power of the default bias at some length in my Master's thesis, and I think requiring that users affirmatively take action to reveal personal information isn't a bad idea.

No matter how many times they're told otherwise, people on Facebook still seem to forget that bosses can see photos of them at amusement parks on "sick days," or that crazy exes can get street addresses from profile pages. While it's reasonable to assume a degree of sophistication from a contemporary internet user, the complexity of a social networking site (especially one as developed as Facebook) demands time to come to understand. Technicalities of information sharing policies take even longer.

Leveraging the default bias to protect users' privacy makes good legislative sense in this context. Protect the legally recognized right to privacy, but let sophisticated users who understand the ramifications of their decisions do whatever they like.

What caught my eye, though, was a portion of the response from a Facebook spokesperson:

"This legislation is a serious threat both to Facebook's business in California and to meaningful California consumers' choices about use of personal data.... Any legislative or regulatory proposal must honor users' expectations in the contexts in which they use online services and promote the innovation that fuels the growth of the Internet economy."

"Honor users' expectations?" So your argument is that legislators shouldn't help ensure users' privacy because by now we should all be used to getting data raped by everyone who has the opportunity to profit from our inattention?

Your abuses have created the norm. To appeal to that norm in arguing against legislation seeking to mitigate those abuses is irony indeed.

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