Posted May 17, 2011 9:55 am by with 7 comments

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I know, I know, Facebook privacy rants are normally the stomping ground of our fearless managing editor Frank Reed, but I just have to bring to your attention that Facebook et al are trying to block a California bill that would make your social networking more private.

Despite the feigned empathy towards those that are worried about the sharing of sensitive personal information, Facebook leads a group–which includes Google, Twitter and Zynga–in opposing proposed legislation in California that would make it mandatory for social networks to shore up their privacy settings.

If it passes, the law would require social networks to make all information private by default, unless the user chooses to go through each setting and remove any privacy. Clearly this is a smart idea for the user, as it would let them decide which sensitive information is shared publicly. You would also think that this would take the heat off of the social networking sites, as they would no longer get complaints that their privacy settings where too, well, non-existent.

But sadly no.

There’s money to be made and it’s not going to happen if you prevent all of your telephone, email, friend, and hobby information sit behind your privacy settings. So, in the interests of making money improving your social networking experience, these companies are opposing the bill on the grounds that:

  • Asking users to make privacy choices at the outset–the group calls this “privacy shrink wrap”–will result in bad and overly broad decisions. The Federal Trade Commission recently said that it’s best practice to ask users to make privacy decisions on an item-by-item basis so they can understand the context.
  • Users are already setting their privacy settings themselves, and don’t seem to have had problems with social networks failing to remove content after it’s been requested.
  • Many social networking companies are based in California, and implementing these practices would significantly impact their businesses at a time when the state’s economy is in shambles.
  • SB 242 is unconstitutional because it interferes with freedom of speech and interstate commerce. Quote: “By hiding from view of all existing usersʼ information until they made a contrary choice, the State of California would be significantly limiting those usersʼ ability to ‘freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects.’”

Do any of the above reasons wash with you? I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a good thing for new accounts to be private by default, but I also don’t like these companies hiding their real motives behind some feigned altruism.



  • I’m certainly no constitutional scholar. Even so, I can see that last argument is patently ridiculous. The law would not prevent anyone from speaking and sharing ideas. What would prevent users from speaking freely is locking down setting and then not allowing people to change them. Locking things down from outset and then giving them a choice does not limit freedom whatsoever.

  • Why can’t they make some data public by default and the rest private i.e. a form of compromise?

  • Fearless, huh? I can only imagine what Markie Zuck and company are doing with my information because I have been so forgiving of their innocent missteps and ooopsies! Let’s face it, maybe Eric Schmidt was on to something when he said (supposedly jokingly) that if you want privacy don’t put it online. It’s the way it’s turning out.

    Imagine Facebook’s IPO if their 600 million accounts was suddenly 100 million actually sharing any data that advertisers could use. Still a big number but no the one that holds $60 billion valuations.

  • Trey

    Google, Twitter, and Facebook are not opposing the bill because of the issue stated in this article.
    They are opposing the bill because it also requires them to allow parents access to their children’s accounts, thus making it less private. They have their costumers’ best interests in mind. And most information on the pages ARE PRIVATE BY DEFAULT, people simply un-check the box. It’s not Google, Twitter, or Facebook’s fault that people are releasing the information, they are doing everything they can to ensure privacy, the users just choose to not use the safety features.

    I can see how wording the article to make the companies sound like the bad guys makes it more interesting, but it is in no way true. I suggest maybe next time Mr. Andy Beal report fairly, or maybe if he didn’t know the information I provided, he could do some research before writing his next article.

    • @Trey – WHen has Facebook ever erred on the side of all privacy settings being locked down by default? In fact, it was when they opened the floodgates by going in the complete opposite direction that more people started to pay more attention. What about Google Buzz and the major privacy leak when that rolled out? Not sure which Internet you are working with but as far as I can tell neither company has done this and that’s the reason why California is trying to enact this law.

  • It is sad that the giants of the online world do not care about online privacy. I guess it’s not surprising really as exposing people’s personal data to advertisers is how they make money. In our modern world big brother is watching however it’s not the government. . .

    The best option seems to be protect yourself online through do-not-track options or using temporary email addresses which can be easily changed. Here is how easy it can be,

  • brat Bing

    I noticed that google shares info, about my search, with facebook. I am 100% sure in that. I was last weeks intensively searching for MBA Europian Universities through Google. And now Facebook regulary gives me advertisements for Universities. And it was never happening before.

    This is what really pisses me off.