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California Social Networking Bill Makes Sense

A California bill has stirred up controversy and caused Facebook and Google to join forces against it

Facebook, Google, Skype, and Twitter have joined forces to oppose a bill from a California senator that would force online services to lock down personal information by default. The united front from the Internet, though, illustrates exactly why such a bill might just be the solution we need.

California Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, introduced SB 242 which would force online services and social networking sites to make default settings private (except for the user's name and city of residence), and force users to choose their privacy settings when they register.

The giants of the Internet have allied to fight against the bill. In a letter to Corbett, the group asserts that this legislation would undermine the ability of Californians to make informed, meaningful choices about the use of their personal data.

I'm sorry, what? How is taking a model that assumes nothing is private, and changing it to a system where privacy is granted by default, but users must make informed, meaningful choices to allow their information to be shared going to undermine that ability exactly?

What is wrong with locked down by default? The Constitutional right to free speech is not violated, because the option to open the floodgates and share your personal information with the world would still be there. But, it would give users better control over their own information, and it would mean that the decision to share personal data would be a conscious one.

It doesn't make any sense to argue that open by default with the option to impose privacy restrictions is reasonable, but that locked down by default with the option to remove privacy restrictions is a heinous violation of personal liberty.

Either way, there is an assumed obligation of the user to understand the risks and implications of their privacy choices, and to either impose or remove privacy controls to meet their needs. But, many users are not aware of the privacy implications, and never take the time to learn about the privacy options available. Flipping the model around would force users to make conscious choices about privacy in order to effectively use the sites and services.

What seems more likely is that Facebook, Google, and others are afraid of what locked down by default might do to their business model and the ability to farm and exploit useful information from those unlocked user profiles. But, if users really want to share their information as Zuckerberg has asserted on multiple occasions--and that does seem like a reasonable assumption for a social networking site--then they will make the choice to remove the privacy restrictions and all will be back to normal.

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