Paralegal Protest: Social Media’s Threat to Freedom

10 Apr

Guest post by Fiona Causer

Every time an individual browses the web, he or she leaves a digital footprint that gives away crucial information. Many websites are coded to send information about a user’s browsing or purchasing information to Facebook – whether or not that user even has a Facebook profile. Constant changes to privacy policies among social media giants usually cause many to wonder whether the information they’ve marked as private will actually remain private.  This type of legal ambiguousness is proving to be a headache for legal professionals across the industry.  Various types of law-related education programs are making strides to address these issues in a sustainable, consistent manner.  Whether it’s the most highly-regarded traditional law programs or online paralegal certificate programs, all are making a similar effort to appropriately teach their students to identify these issues to properly represent future clients that are bound to encounter these online privacy issues.

With these social media outlets concerned more about turning a profit instead of preserving personal privacy, the burden of determining what information to submit inadvertently lies with the individual.  Facebook compiles data profiles on its users that help marketers target ads from businesses; much of the application’s advertising revenues are due to this. That’s a big reason why the company earned a 2011 profit of $668 million and more than $3.7 billion in revenue, according to this story printed in the Washington Post.

This story also reports backlash from more than 30,000 German Facebook users who protested recent privacy policy changes. Facebook’s response? “It’s clear that some people fundamentally misunderstand our proposed changes. Our data-use policy governs how we use and collect data. That document is not changing at this time.” This statement comes from Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt.

In response to the chaotic environment that Facebook presents, many governments elect to constrict free speech. Countries that have banned Facebook include China, Vietnam, Syria, Pakistan and Iran. In March 2012, political dissent caused the government of Tajikistan, a Central Asian country, to prevent civilians from logging into Facebook.

In the United States, free speech and personal privacy are both protected by Constitutional amendments. But relevant legislation that protects the legal rights of social media users is lacking in our society. Social media businesses that collect information are regulated by privacy laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but these laws don’t prevent identity theft and other legal issues from happening. A Los Angeles Times story reported public statements from the Federal Trade Commission calling for more comprehensive legislation to protect consumer personal data as of March 2012.

Millions of people use Twitter daily to post short updates about work or personal items. In December 2011, Twitter announced a deal with the British-based data company DataSift that allows DataSift to analyze two years worth of archived Twitter posts and send information to marketing companies. Matt Liebowitz of SecurityNewsDaily writes about the backlash this move sparked from international experts on privacy issues.

It’s still not clear enough in our legal framework to decide who bears the burden of responsibility in social media privacy issues. Until then, there’s sure to be plenty of conflict between social media outlets and their users.

Fiona Causer is currently a student pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies.  She enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day.

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