California Senate Bill 1361, that takes aim at tackling the potential risks that arise when minors expose their home address and/or phone numbers on social networking sites, is well intended but flawed.
Introduced by Senator Corbett in February, the bill aims to prohibit social networking sites (per their definition) from displaying, to the public or other registered users, the home address or telephone number of a registered user of that Internet Web site who is under 18 years of age. (Full text below)
Here’s why the current fast tracking of this bill should be dropped, and a more thoughtful review process established. I’m confident that under a more rigorous review, the bill’s flaws will come fully to light.
- There are many legitimate reasons for a minor to share their address or phone number on a social networking site. For example:
- Consider the online services that enable users to send out party invitations to friends – these invitations obviously need an address for the party location and a phone number to RSVP. Some of these invitation services are standalone applications, in other cases the invitation functionality is but one feature of larger services – MySpace, for example, has an ‘Events’ feature that allows members to send invitations – but in all cases, the invitation services fall squarely under the definition of a social network. I find it hard to believe that this invitation scenario is what the bill was intended to prohibit.
- Church forums, youth forums, clubs, and organizations whose websites include phone trees, or the youths addresses and that allow socializing would fall under this legislation, making many of these subject to the civil penalties proscribed.
- On sites like Facebook, where most users provide their full name, city and state, would-be criminals don’t need to find a user’s phone number and address on their page – they can simply look up that information and more on public sites like directory services, and property records. School websites are also likely to help locate a student due to the defined geographical boundaries associated with schools. Does the State of California intend to block all of these access points?
- The bill specifically calls out that it would be a violation to show address/phone number information in fields specified to share this information – leaving any minor fully able to share this in any other field on their site, essentially undercutting the object of the legislation.
- This bill is likely to have the unintended consequence of increasing the incentive for youth to lie about their age when registering for social networking sites, to simply avoid any hassle.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in minors sharing address and phone number information with friends when done appropriately, and when the service itself does not exploit or share this information with other parties. Teaching youth when it is, and isn’t, appropriate to share address and phone information, and with whom is it and isn’t appropriate to share such information will achieve the intended goal, while not throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Being a strong advocate for online safety, it always feels odd when I’m compelled to argue against an “internet safety” bill, but a flawed bill is not a solution.
SECTION 1. Part 2.7 (commencing with Section 60) is added to
Division 1 of the Civil Code, to read:
PART 2.7. SOCIAL NETWORKING PRIVACY ACT
60. (a) A social networking Internet Web site shall not display, to the public or other registered users, the home address or telephone number of a registered user who identifies himself or herself as being under 18 years of age.
(b) The provisions of subdivision (a) shall only apply to a web text field specifically designated to display the registered user’s home address or telephone number.
64. For purposes of this part:
(a) “Social networking Internet Web site” means any business, organization, or other entity that provides or offers a service through the Internet that permits a registered user to access, meet, congregate, or communicate with other registered users for social networking purposes. “Social networking Internet Web site” does not include a business, organization, or other entity that only provides electronic mail service.
(b) “Registered user” means any person who has created an account
for purposes of accessing a social networking Internet Web site.
65. A social networking Internet Web site that willfully and knowingly violates any provision of this part shall be liable for a civil penalty, not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) for each violation of this part.