California state senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) will have until the end of the week to garner five more votes for SB 242, an online privacy bill facing opposition by industry heavyweights such as Google and Facebook, which failed on a 16-16 vote on Friday.

So Who's Against User Privacy?

The bill is intended to help protect user privacy by such means as promptly removing adults' personal information from sites upon request and allowing parents to edit their kids' web postings, according to the Los Angeles Times, as well as by setting all information private by default and having users specify their privacy settings when they first register for a site. It also has teeth: Fines of up to $10,000 per violation -- which would mean $10 billion in fines for a million-user vendor, according to Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), cited in the San Francisco Chronicle.

While this seems like mom-and-apple-pie stuff, especially after concerns about privacy in social media sites such as Facebook, a number of California-based Internet vendors are strongly opposed to the bill, saying it is overreaching and unworkable, 

In a letter written opposing the bill, the signatories -- including Facebook, Google, Skype, Twitter, and dating sites such as Match.com and eHarmony -- said that

  • contextual privacy, or changing privacy settings on the go, was more appropriate, citing a Federal Trade Commission report on the subject and that people were doing fine with privacy settings they way they were
  • the bill singled out social media companies
  • the bill would damage California's technology sector, to the extent that in an op-ed opposing the bill, two Republican legislators (including Blakeslee) conjured up the image of a Silicon Valley ghost town as all the technology vendors decamped the state to avoid it

On Friday, the bill failed on a 16-16 vote of the 40-member body. All the Republicans, plus two Democrats, voted to oppose. 

Astute readers will note that 16 and 16 do not add up to 40; eight legislators abstained on the bill for unspecified reasons. The Senate went on to grant reconsideration on a 38-0 vote, which is what gives the bill another shot. In other words, six legislators voted to grant reconsideration but didn't vote on the initial bill. Hmm.

No Borders Online

One of the other criticisms of the bill is that, because there are no borders online, companies would essentially be required to implement the bill's provisions for all of their users, not just the California ones. The vendors opposed to the bill also made this argument and used it as evidence that the bill was unconstitutional, though other states, including California, have passed electronic privacy legislation before. 

This issue also led to the odd aspect of Republican legislators such as Blakeslee -- whose party typically espouses local control, or the position that people who live in an area are the best ones to make decisions -- saying that the best place to make Internet decisions was on the federal level. Of course, the chance of such an issue passing the Republican-controlled House is essentially nil.