When comparing boxers about to duke it out in the arena, it’s common practice to look at their stats:
Facebook holds accounts for over 500 million people.
The United States Government governs over 313 million people.
You break a Facebook law, Facebook locks up your account.
You break a government law, the government locks you up.
In this match, there are no underdogs. Only gorillas. Gorillas who have tangoed before.
In 2011, Facebook captured national attention when they reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who charged that Facebook “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private.” While this settlement may seem like the Government is just now getting involved in Facebook’s affairs, in reality, Facebook has been on the Government’s radar for quite some time.
The FTC’s investigation stemmed from a 2009 complaint from several privacy-affiliated organizations including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The complaint accused Facebook of changing their privacy settings and then not alerting their users to the change. In addition, Facebook also allegedly changed their default settings, so that they “were set to the widest level of sharing possible.” This supposedly made users not only unaware of the changes but also oblivious to how much sharing they were actually doing.
In 2010, Facebook found itself in trouble with the law again, this time in California. Facebook users banded together to sue Facebook in a class action lawsuit, alleging that Facebook violated its users’ privacy by sharing information to companies about users who clicked on their ads.
California is also the state that currently has a privacy bill coming up through legislation that would prohibit Facebook from accessing users’ telephone numbers, addresses and others forms of personal information without permission.
While all this information may make it look like Facebook is on the ropes, try not to hedge any bets quite yet, because Facebook is not a company to easily get knocked out.
In fact, Facebook has not only been fighting the California privacy bill, but it has also successfully quashed a majority of the 2010 class action lawsuit as well. A California judge sided with Facebook in 2011 on the basis that users could not have an expectation of privacy if they clicked on ads they are interested in. The judge also concluded that personal information is not property, which could prove to be a valuable defense in any future Facebook indiscretions.
Over the years, Facebook may have learned how to duck out of legal blows, but it also knows on to go on the offensive. In 2010, the Government began to subpoena Facebook Profiles in court cases where those documents could provide insight into witness identities, suspect alibis or even tax dealings. In many of these cases, Facebook has refused to comply with subpoenas, citing that “it has a duty to protect the privacy of its users.”
So in this corner, we have the bone-crushing king of social media platforms… Facebook! And in this corner, we have the big kahuna himself, fed full of your hard-earned tax dollars… the Government!
Who will deliver the knockout punch remains to be seen, but one thing’s clear, these two behemoths may have the juice to go all twelve rounds.