Posted June 26, 2009 5:06 pm by with 9 comments

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facebook2Man, hardly a week goes by without the European Union getting after some Internet behemoth for bad business practices or invading individuals’ privacy, or both. Usually it’s Google on the receiving end, but this time it’s social networks that are getting scrutiny from the supranational regulator.

As Facebook begins testing greater and greater publicity, with user controls, the EU begins demanding more and more of social networks’ privacy policies—or, that’s what we think their vague regulations are trying to do, anyway.


There are several specific policies that social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, which both have large European audiences, will have to comply with: automatically setting users’ privacy to the highest level (giving users the option to opt out of that extreme level of privacy), allow users to limit the data shared with third-parties (including advertisers and applications), and limit the use of “sensitive information,” including race, religion and political views, in behavioral targeting.

However, many of the regulations, like most laws, are constructed broadly. While broad language in laws avoids the problem of overspecificity, sometimes it becomes difficult for constituents to follow the law. I mean, do you want to define exactly what “legitimate purposes” a network must have to collect personal information?

On the other hand, how could the EU specifically name all the legitimate purposes for collecting data within its regulation? Is targeting birthday-centered promotions from advertisers a “legitimate purpose”? Is enabling your friends to send you virtual birthday gifts “illegitimate”?

What do you think? How can Facebook balance its users’ (and its own legal) need for privacy with its inherent purpose—friending everyone you’ve ever known since elementary school?

  • EU lawmakers really need to grow up, every day they come with stupid things (no media player or browser in windows) which only limits choices for EU residents and makes them a closed society (maybe that’s what they want to do).

  • To be honest, I wish more governments would monitor their own invasive privacy laws, and let the open source tech community monitor web laws, advising government. It’s like a team of surgeons enforcing farm laws….

  • Steve Fox

    So they will hire more people to just waste tax payers money on?
    Good luck policing the internet

    sell sheets

  • EU has way too many rules and laws:)
    It’s almost impossible to follow all of these.
    I think EU needs to reduce bureaucracy!

  • It still seems very laissez-faire here whereas the Europeans are cracking down. I guess I like the slightly more Wild West feel.

    jlbraaten’s last blog post..Choosing Content for a Usable Website

  • I thought China was the worst case in monitoring and restricting internet access for its citizens. Turns out, EU is growing to be nuisance. As the first commenter said, EU policy makers really need to grow up!!!

    Richael Neet’s last blog post..Domain Registration Length – Does it Matter?

  • I think that in some ways, the EU is right to try something – depending on generic settings, many users may never notice the change and have their lives impacted by the new policy change. however, the vast majority of uses will never notice the difference.

  • The 200 million Facebook users would make up the sixth largest country in the world if they had to ghet together, so it makes dense that they’ll start trying to govern things more……

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