My Thoughts on the Social Networking Privacy Act

There is currently a lot of debate about the Social Networking Privacy Act, proposed by US Senator Ellen Corbett. The act seeks to force social networks, such as Facebook, to make it the default option that users’ information is hidden. I thought that I would join in on the debate as well, and logically I chose this blog to be my platform for sharing my two cents.

While I agree that it is best that privacy settings be set to their most secure and locked down state by default, I personally don’t believe the government should have so much of a part in it. This bill would benefit people who don’t know how to secure their information, but as others have stated, everything is not so cut and dry in Washington as the government would have you believe. I’m not into conspiracies and general mistrust of the government, but I do recognize that there is a lot of corruption in Washington, and that politics is a game of manipulating others so that your point of view becomes the law of the land. There are many sneaky things going on, sneaking things into bills and only discussing the positive merits of the bill, “grassroots” campaigns, PACs, and parties that are actually ran by major party members with tons of capital backing them up (that’s the meaning of grassroots, right?), and all sorts of other unfortunate shenanigans.

Government regulation of the Internet is a bad thing. All the rich guys (read: politicians) who don’t know what it’s really like to actually live in our world, to live on our salaries, or to deal with our daily problems, are not the ideal people to go to when it comes to deciding what’s best for the rest of us. Not to mention that many of these people further expanded their wealthy by abusing the power of their office. Take for example that many times large corporations donate to a candidate’s campaign. This is not free money because they like the candidate, this is basically a legal bribe, and when they have a certain piece of legislation that they want passed, perhaps something that is unpopular because it’s good for this small group of people and bad for everyone else, then they’re going to come to call in that favor. These are the sort of reasons that many of our laws today are against our own best interests, why our government’s power is growing far beyond what our constitution grants it, and why we don’t want them deciding what’s best for our Internet, because as a whole they tend to be uninformed about many of the issues they decide on, and easily influenced by the people who helped them get where they are, people who don’t tend to have anyone’s best interest at heart but their own.I agree that it would be wonderful if it could be as cut and dry as, “the government says you guys have to set privacy settings to hidden by default” and that was the end of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Even more far reaching than anything else unfortunate that gets snuck into the bill that isn’t advertised to the general public, is the fact that by passing any piece of legislature, you are also setting a precedent. In our government, and our legal system (which is actually the Judicial branch of our government) precedents are very important. Basically what it means is that when you’re looking at whether to pass a new bill, or whether to decide on a case if you’re a judge, then you look at how people who are or were in your position decided on similar cases from the past. That’s why lawyers tend to study similar cases to the client their representing’s case, because chances are past decisions by other judges in similar cases will have at least some, likely a lot, of weight in the judge’s decision. The reason for this is that judges and politicians are only human, they cannot know every aspect of how everything in the world that they must decide on works, so oftentimes they look at past decisions by others in similar positions for guidance. My point being that if you pass a piece of legislature that approves government regulation of the Internet, even a good one such as this, then you make the next proposed government regulation of the Internet more acceptable. The next proposal for government regulation may not be such a good thing, but by passing this act, you’ve made it easier for a future unpopular attempt for government regulation to pass, because there’s a precedent for government regulation then.

I think that it would be great if it were that simple, but it really isn’t. I still think that the best way to go is education, like what we do at the AVG Community. Teach people that they need to be aware of what their privacy settings are. That they shouldn’t share anything online that they wouldn’t feel comfortable becoming public information. As others have correctly stated, no one but you is responsible for your data, and oftentimes when you put too much trust in someone else with your data, you’ll get burned. Keep track of what you’re sharing and who’s allowed to see it, rather than depend on a private company that’s only interested in profit (Facebook), or the federal government to take care of you.

Oversharing Is An Education Issue

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people complain that “many people aren’t “savvy” enough to know how to control their privacy settings.”

This is also an education issue. As we move into a more connected world, where almost everything is moving towards information, and the ability to access and share it from anywhere, anytime, we have to learn how to correctly control our own personal information. When you’re raising your children, you don’t go to the government and ask them to pass a bill saying that kids have to stay out of the street. You teach them not to play in the street, and what might happen to them if they do.

I like the analogy that “people who don’t have a license shouldn’t be driving cars.” In our connected age, it’s no longer acceptable to be ignorant of how to monitor and control your personal information. You need to be able to identify what’s personal, and when, where, and how you should share it. If you make an account on any type of website, you need to take personal responsibility for ensuring your information stays private. If you’re going to get behind the wheel, then for both your safety as well as the safety of others, you must first learn how to drive safely. The same can be said for getting online. If you’re going to share information online, then you should first learn how to do that safely, for your own benefit. It’s not as though there are a lack of resources out there. AVG regularly shares information through the AVG Community to help you, AVG employees and helpful volunteers (such as myself) are more than happy to answer any questions that anyone may have about how to safely share their information, this very blog has many articles about staying safe online, and there are thousands of other resources online to help you as well.

There’s no excuse for not understanding other than not taking the time and effort to try to understand. And I don’t find that acceptable in our information driven world. It’s akin to taking the wheel of a car without even knowing what it’s called and must less how to drive it. It’s no longer about “that’s too technical for me” that’s the same as saying that how the gear shift in your car works is too technical for you to bother to try to understand as you mistakenly plow into the car behind you while in reverse, because you expected to go forward. Information is an important part of our world today, and it’s only becoming more so important. I recommend you learn how to control it.

The answer to “people don’t understand how to protect their own personal information” isn’t to have the government protect it for them. Facebook and other social networking sites are by far not the only places personal information can be shared, this act isn’t a fix, it’s just a band-aid over the underlying problem.

This is an education issue. When you’re a kid how do you know to call 911 if someone is injured? How do you know not to talk to strangers? That’s because you were taught in school or by your parents, likely both. The answer to this problem is for correctly classifying information as personal and knowing what information to share and what not to share, as well as how to monitor and control that information, to become as much a part of the learning process as the common knowledge I referenced above.


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