Concern about children's safety and privacy online has led to a number of initiatives and programs -- by schools, by private companies, and by government entities. These efforts are all aimed at protecting children and teens from what are perceived to be the big dangers on the Internet: sexual predators, advertisers, and bullies, for example, but they're also at protecting children and teens from themselves.
A new proposed piece of legislation in California (SB242) aims to mandate new privacy policies and practices for social networking sites. Much of the language was initially framed in terms of protecting those under age 18. That age restriction has been taken out of the bill's draft language, and now requires a number of changes to how social networks handle all their users' privacy.
Facebook still does not allow users under 13 to register for an account - and the legislation won't change existing age restrictions. But now all social networks will have to establish default settings that prevent public or private display of anything other than a user's name and city without their consent. New users would have to establish their privacy settings during the registration process. Privacy options would need to be written in "plain language" and displayed in an "easy-to-use format." Sites would have to remove personally identifying information, including photos, within 48 hours of a user's - or a minor user's parents' - request. And companies could be fined up to $10,000 any time they fail to do any of this.
Not surprisingly, many notable Internet companies, including Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Google and Skype, are expressing their opposition to the bill, saying that not only is it unnecessary, it violates the First Amendment, and would damage California's technology sector.