Legislative Alert: Social Networks May Be Target of New Privacy Bill

To date, legislation concerning online privacy has remained focused on how best to protect consumer information on the Web, from mandating 'Do Not Track' to legislating the advertising industry. But now, amid the slew of online privacy bills ready to hit Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, at least one congressman appears to have added social networks to the target list as well.

To date, legislation concerning online privacy has remained focused on how best to protect consumer information on the Web, from mandating ‘Do Not Track’ to legislating the advertising industry. But now, amid the slew of online privacy bills ready to hit Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, at least one congressman appears to have added social networks to the target list as well.

Politico’s Morning Tech reports Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) is set to introduce a revised version of his privacy bill from the last Congress that will likely touch on social networks.

The paper notes: “Stearns did not detail much of what he had in mind, and carefully noted he was only “looking” at a social network provision. But he did say the early conversations are in “light of some of the things that are happening on Facebook.” We asked him to elaborate. Stearns merely replied: “Well, I think we’re going to see sometime in the near future an Internet consumer bill of rights. … Lots of people on Facebook volunteer [personal] info, not realizing it’s being used in a way that is good but also in ways that reveal a lot of their personal habits, which in the long run they might not want people to know.”

The increased emphasis on social networks comes just a short time after legislators questioned Facebook on a feature that would open users’ home addresses, phone numbers and personal information to websites and app developers. Earlier this month, Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) delivered a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting more information and demanding that consumers be better protected.

A spokesman for Rep. Stearns had earlier confirmed to the National Journal that his boss would pick up the privacy issue where he left off with the bill he led with Democrat Rick Boucher, who lost his Virginia House seat in the November midterm elections.

Meanwhile, another House colleague, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), has also confirmed plans to reintroduce his own privacy bill this Congress. His office has now confirmed, however, that it will not include language on any type of ‘Do Not Track’ feature or mandate.

Other House members said to be eyeing legislation include Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) who announced in December that she would introduce privacy ‘opt-out’ legislation for consumers to escape “cookies, sniffing, scraping, or any other new and creative methods developed by those looking to profit through these activities.” Aides to Speier told The Hill’s Hillicon Valley that she now expects to introduce the bill this week.

House Internet Privacy Caucus co-chair Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is also reportedly working on a bill focused on protecting children’s Internet privacy.

In the Senate, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is also expected to introduce privacy legislation that would likely include a safe harbor for firms that voluntarily adopt the recommendations in the Federal Trade Commission’s December report. A Kerry spokeswoman said his office is still finalizing the bill.