Facebook Privacy Suit 'A Jumbled Mess'
A privacy lawsuit filed against Facebook on behalf of 2 minors and 3 adults is more confusing than helpful
While I can’t comment on the entire suit, it’s clear to me that parts of the just-filed privacy lawsuit against Facebook represent a lack of understanding of how social networks like Facebook work as well as how best to protect children and adults on the Internet. I’m especially baffled by the allegation that Facebook violated the rights of an 11-year-old child because he disclosed that he had swine flu.
The suit, brought by five plaintiffs in Southern California, alleges that Facebook violates California privacy laws.
The child who said he had swine flu is identified as “Xavier O.” The complaint says he “has a Facebook account that was opened without the knowledge or consent of his parents.” He allegedly “uploaded personal information, videos and photographs, including swimming and/or partially clothed photographs of children ages 5 to 11.” It further says that he posted information that he had swine flu and asked people to “Please pray for me…God Bless.” The complaint says that “upon learning of the Facebook account and the posting of an uncertain medical condition,” the child’s parents “removed the medical condition postings from Facebook” and that “Xavier O. and his parents have been unable to learn where the minor’s medical information may have been stored, disseminated or sold by Facebook.”
(Disclosure: I’m co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit organization that receives financial support from Facebook as well as other companies.)
I don’t know where to begin parsing young Xavier’s case. First, by simply having a Facebook account he was violating Facebook’s terms of service. And why did his parents only remove “the minor’s medical information?” They should have deleted his entire account.
Like all reputable social networking sites, Facebook complies with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by not allowing children under 13 to have accounts (COPPA does make provisions for accounts for children under 13 but imposes certain conditions including parental consent). The only way for this young man to obtain a Facebook account would be to lie about his date of birth.
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