California: Privacy law and Social networking

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California, the hub of innovation technology in the U.S. and the economic engine for this industry, is trying to control the power that its “offspring” granted: Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Match.com, Silicon Valley Group, and Skype have in the last years gained global information dominance so that privacy rights – according to many observers – have concurrently been greatly re-sized.

These giants have gained power in controlling and managing sensitive information of millions of users. Such reputation is so overt that as we all know these companies are the preferred avenues for information gathering (known as “custodian of records”). U.S. Federal or State prosecutors are able to obtain information about users through orders or warrants issued by an independent judge or magistrate, provided that compliance with U.S. Law is fulfilled.

In brief, everything we write or do online is potentially under scrutiny. There is a limited expectation of privacy on the Internet and writing a message or posting a picture on the Internet is not like reading a book in the intimacy of our homes.

With Bill SB 242, California wants to revive the privacy protection introducing, for new users, default privacy settings limiting the information that can be traced publicly to user name and city of residence. In addition, users will be empowered to request the cancellation of any information within 48 hours from request. The bill has been proposed by Senator Ellen Corbett (D).

The coalition is fighting back. They wrote to Sen. Corbett and assessed Bill SB 242 unconstitutional because in reality it was decreasing users’ privacy protection.  The primary issue is about the number of words that social networks can use to inform (or warn) users: from forty to a thousand. In brief, the length of privacy information could not only detract subscribers, but can single out Californians without showing that they have been harmed. In addition, setting privacy standard in advance equals to an uninformed choice.

In addition, the coalition states that the freedom of speech is harmed as well as the information technology sector in California because the proposal is capable of limiting its growing potential.

The balance between information and privacy is a delicate and sensitive one. Senator Corbett announced a tough battle on behalf of the citizens’ information availability and data usage overall with reference to minors.

Privacy experts and consumer protection advocates recognized the importance of this bill and the role that information sharing is taking among young generation of users. Consumers are often not well informed about their choice when they go on the Internet. Is this issue going to involve other states or the U.S. Federal Government? We’ll see.

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