Legal shorts for September 15, 2015: Web giants as privacy protectors, and facebook's underage problem
Could tech giants be our best hope against government overreaching?
Imagine trusting our privacy to Facebook, Google, and Apple. All three companies have less-than-stellar records for protecting the privacy of their customers, yet they continue to serve as our last line of defense against attempts by government agencies to access our private information without a proper warrant.
TruthDig's Thor Benson writes in a September 11, 2015, article that ordinary citizens are in no position to protect their private information stored with web services from overreaching government agencies. Benson cites a recent paper by University of Washington School of Law assistant professor Ryan Calo, who believes that web services are the only parties able to "resist excessive data requests." The companies are also the only ones with the legal firepower to battle the government. (A shorter version of Calo's paper is published on Fusion.)
Although Google has been awarded only three out of five stars on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Who has your back?" chart, the company is credited with following privacy best practices, publishing all government data requests it receives, and opposing built-in backdoors to thwart encryption. (Apple is noteworthy for its strong, steady objection to encryption backdoors.)
When the government comes looking for our private data, we have no choice but to trust the web services we frequent. As the EFF's Nate Cardozo points out in Benson's article, privacy is a prerequisite for democracy, and encryption is now a prerequisite for privacy. That's why we have no choice but to encrypt the entire Internet, even though encryption is anything but a privacy panacea. (I explain why in an April 14, 2015, article, "Should all web traffic be encrypted?", and in another article two weeks later entitled "The case against web encryption, Title II designation for ISPs.")
Facebook has an underage problem
Not everyone realizes Facebook has an age limit: You have to be at least 13 years old to create a Facebook account. According to the International Business Times' Zairah Khurshid in a September 13, 2015, article, the age limit is the result of U.S. laws protecting the privacy of children.
Now the company is being sued by a British man who claims his daughter was subjected to sexual predators on a Facebook account she created when she was only 11 years old. The man's lawyers state that the company's registration system is too lax, which exposes children to "extreme material."
At present, a child can merely indicate that they are at least 13 years old when they register with Facebook. The company is quoted by Khurshid as removing as many as 20,000 accounts created by underage children each day. A pre-trial agreement reportedly calls for Facebook to pay the family some compensation. Should such suits proliferate, Facebook and many other sites may be required to implement a more-stringent age-verification system.
Maybe that's not such a bad idea.