Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has been embroiled in various privacy issues over recent months, especially in Europe. But now the company is facing some privacy issues in the U.S., and a federal law regarding privacy of children on the Internet has led Facebook to appeal to the Federal Trade Commission for a certain level of relief from the requirements of the law.
How this will go over with investors like billionaire fund manager George Soros of Soros Fund Management remains to be seen – how would this law affect Facebook user numbers and could Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) get an exemption from federal privacy regulations?
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) reportedly sent a 20-page letter to the FTC expressing concerns, if not objections, about the revised version of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which would stipulate (if the revised version passes Congress and is signed by the President) that any Web site that collects personal data about users must receive written parental permission if the child is under the age of 13. In addition, the revisions would apply the rules to those sites that use “cookies” to track users’ browsing history – again, if the user is under 13, the web sites would need parental permission to track the young user as he or she surfs the Web.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) does not allow children under 13 to create accounts on its site, but research has found that about 5-6 million young people have accounts on Facebook, most of whom got help/permission from their parents. Facebook inc. (FB) does claim to expunge its site of about 80,000 such underage pages each year.
However, the main point of the letter written by Facebook inc. (NASDAQ:FB) had to do with free speech in the form of the ubiquitous “Like” button. The company has argued incessantly that a “like” is protected free speech, and preventing a user from using the “like” button would constitute a constitutional free-speech infringement. Also, Facebook Inc. (FB) contends that it does not have control over users’ abilities to use social plug-ins like “like” buttons featured on other sites, and thus should not be held liable under COPPA.
In the letter, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) wrote, “A government regulation that restricts teens’ ability to engage in protected speech — as the proposed Coppa Rule would do — raises issues under the First Amendment.”
What do you think? Does Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) have a point? Do children under 13 have a constitutional right to free speech? Does a “like” button constitute an expression of that right?