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Social Media and Social Networking

Social media has become ubiquitous in the past few years. Social networking sites provide children, young adults, and others with the ability to share with each other much personal data. However, with the many benefits of sharing information with friends and colleagues also comes the risk or danger that this information might also be accessible to unwanted parties, aggressive marketers, stalkers, or criminals.

Social media sites raise a wide variety of issues, a great number of which are closely dependent on compliance with data privacy and security laws. For example, a social networking service should provide its users with clear notice of its personal data handling practices, and simple, useable, and practical information and tools so that they can control who has access to information about them.

The regulators are closely monitoring the operations of social networking sites, and their data handling practices. They have raised numerous concerns, such as the need for sites to abide by their existing privacy policies. Attorneys General have issued guidelines on the manner in which they expect social networking sites to operate. The Federal Trade Commission has published a report describing its concern with the practices of certain sites that primarily target minors.

Regulators have also addressed the importance of controlling or limiting access to social media sites in order to allow every member to enjoy the benefits of the site without being unreasonably exposed to child predators, criminals, or stalkers.

While age verification technologies may be able to help reduce the risk of harm to children or minors by blocking access to sites that are not adapted to their maturity level, these technologies are still in the experimental phase and are only a part of the answer to the problem. Complex issues arise when attempting to implement age or identity verification measures that are intended to shield children from content or relationships that are not adapted to their maturity level.

We regularly work with companies that offer social media services, and have extensively spoken and written on this area. Examples of services offered include:

  • Working with the business, design, and development teams in creating privacy friendly features for a proposed site;
  • Development of clear, compliant privacy statements, terms of use, and other legal notices for the site;
  • Counseling companies on proposed changes to their practices that might deviate from the original commitments made in the company’s privacy statement or other documents;
  • Drafting and negotiating contracts with service providers.