California Bill Would Force Change to Facebook Privacy Settings

A new bill proposed in California could force Facebook and other social networking sites to strip out personal information for children at a parent's request.

SB 242 -- also known as the Social Networking Privacy Act -- would require Facebook and others to carefully police which pieces of information on individuals under age 18 are accessible to the public. It would also provide a means for concerned parents to demand that a site take down their children's information, or face stiff fines as high as $10,000.

It's all wrapped behind the bill's main provision, which would establish privacy settings when a user first joins the network, rather than somewhere down the line.

"You shouldn't have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say, 'Please don't share my personal information,'" Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), who introduced a revised version of the legislation on May 2, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Corbett worries that the default settings on some sites make photos and biographical and family information available to everyone on the Internet after a user registers, unless the user changes those privacy settings.

But that seemingly innocuous requirement has some far-ranging ramifications.

The bill "would force users to make decisions about privacy and visibility of all information well before they even used the service for the first time, and in such a manner that they are less likely to pay attention and process the information," said Tammy Cota, the executive director of the Internet Alliance trade association that includes Google, eHarmony,, Facebook and other companies, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And Facebook itself, which has wrestled with the issue of privacy over the years, isn't exactly happy with the bill.

Spokesman Andrew Noyes told the Chronicle that "any legislative or regulatory proposal must honor users’ expectations in the contexts in which they use online services and promote the innovation that fuels the growth of the Internet economy. This legislation is a serious threat both to Facebook’s business in California and to meaningful California consumers’ choices about use of personal data."