Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Social Media Privacy Protection Act

The Social Media Privacy Protection Act is coming. No such Act has yet been proposed but I predict this will be the name of the Act that regulates social media. The FTC is currently seeking comments on revising the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to include social media. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing today examining how social media affects COPPA. Congress is first determining how it can best protect children's privacy in the social media age. The next logical step is to create legislation that will include the rest of their constituents.

On April 27, 2010, 4 U.S. Senators: Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Al Franken (D-MN) publicly released a letter that they had sent to Facebook's CEO Mark Zukerberg regarding their concerns about Facebook's recent user changes. The letter urged Facebook to allow its users to have more personal control over the site's privacy settings, to change its third party data storage policy, and to simplify the instant personalization options.

I recommend that my clients set their Facebook privacy settings so that only their Facebook Friends are able to view their personal information. It is best to limit the amount of information you post and share because if your account is ever compromised by a hacker the information can easily be used to steal your identity. If you thought that the Internet Age was scary after watching Sandra Bullock's 1995 movie "The Net" the Social Media Age should terrify you.

The recent MIT Project Gaydar study proved that just by inserting data from a person's social media profile it is possible to determine a person's sexuality. I was surprised that so many people appeared shocked by this finding. If a researcher or marketer knows a Facebook user's personal habits and hobbies, friendships, employer/job, socio-economic status, marital/family status they have the ability to make a lot of predictions about a person. Profiling or forecasting is used by law enforcement, wall street, and meteorologists. The more data points you have the more accurate the model or prediction.

In the "old days," your mail carrier knew more about your business than even your neighbors. Then it was the credit card companies and credit bureaus who knew everything financially about you. However, nobody or entity, including the U.S. Government has the treasure trove of data that Facebook accumulates about its users. Most of these other entities spend a tremendous amount of time and resources collecting your data. What is amazing is that Facebook is able to obtain its data for free directly from its users. Not a bad concept, eh?

It appears that Facebook does not yet understand that its recent actions have angered enough people to prompt Congress to become extremely interested in the manner in which it utilizes and protects its users' personal information. Facebook's failure to acknowledge this is evident by the response that Facebook's spokesman Andrew Noyes and vice president of global communications and public policy Elliot Schrage have so far provided.

Social media users must be careful about what personal information they post on social media. In addition, social media users must be proactive in protecting their social media personal profile and companies must be aware of the legal liabilities that they may incur for mishandling their customer's personal information. To learn more about these issues you may contact me at

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