Article first published as Facebook Lobbied to Kill Privacy Legislation and That’s a Good Thing on Technorati.
Facebook and privacy issues seem to go together like Bert and Ernie, Superman and Clark Kent, Batman and Robin, Charlie Sheen and allergic reactions.
Marketwatch first reported Wednesday that Facebook spent more than $6,600 on lobbying efforts in California between April and June of this year in an attempt to “work behind the scenes” killing the Social Networking Privacy Act.
The bill, introduced in the state Senate in February, would restrict social-networking sites from displaying the addresses and phone numbers of minors. Any social media site found in violation would be fined up to $10,000 for each infraction.
The California bill was introduced by Sen. Ellen Corbett and passed by the California State Senate in April before ultimately meeting with opposition in the California State Assembly, according to Marketwatch.
The bill has merit. On the one hand, parents understandably want to protect their children from online predators. On the other, Facebook is protecting its own interests. Both are valid and the latter is not inherently evil. Nick Brown, of the Silcon Angle defends Facebook’s lobbying efforts arguing that while the bill may be well intentioned, the execution leaves much to be desired.
If a bill like this were to pass in California, Facebook could potentially lose tons of money for a variety of reasons. They could be fined for something they didn’t or don’t have the ability to catch. They could be fined for people lying. And they could be forced to enter into countless lawsuits to try to defend themselves. All avenues lead to Facebook losing money.
Mr. Brown is absolutely correct. To borrow a line from House M.D. on his assessment of the human condition; “Everybody lies,” and Facebook shouldn’t be responsible for monitoring the behavior of its underage users to determine if they’re being truthful about the information they post. The current language in the bill opens a Pandora’s box that could potentially cost Facebook an enormous amount of money. Money that could be much better spent on the development of innovative additions that enrich the overall user experience, like today’s launch of Friendship Pages.
Facebook has every right to lobby against this legislation. Even President Barack Obama, in his recent interview with the nation’s most influential man, Jon Stewart, acknowledged lobbying as part of our democracy.
One more argument that is worth repeating is this: If users are concerned about how certain data of theirs is potentially used and shared, don’t post it. Facebook, or any social media network for that matter, can’t share information it doesn’t have. Yes, social networking is meant to be social, that doesn’t mean that those concerned about their information can’t proactively take steps on their own to prevent its disclosure.
Since the legislation in question is aimed at protecting minors, the underlying takeaway is the importance of education for both parents and young adults to help them make smarter decisions about what they post online. That education is the responsibility of all involved. Relying solely on legislation to provide that protection is naive at best, and potentially detrimental at worst.
Facebook is doing the smart thing by looking out for themselves and protecting their interests. We should all do the same for ourselves on social networks.