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Posted in Consumer Privacy

Hogan Lovells-Authored Opinion Piece Examines Idea of Legally Restricting Sharing on Social Media

In an opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Hogan Lovells privacy leader Chris Wolf addressed the issue of whether Congress should pass a law restricting the manner in which individuals might choose to share information through social media.  The context for the discussion was the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) and the idea of a limit on so-called "frictionless sharing" —  available for music and news articles —  with respect to users of streaming video services like Netflix, and their desire automatically to share every video they watch on social media services like Facebook.  Under one reading of the VPPA, written authorization is required "at the time of disclosure," to share details of one’s video watching, thus blocking automatic, frictionless sharing, and a proposal is floating in the Senate to embed such a restriction through an amendment to the VPPA.

Chris explained the issue this way:

Advocates of restrictions on frictionless sharing are concerned that Facebook users might inadvertently disclose through the automatic sharing tool that they watched a controversial movie, causing personal embarrassment. They propose that, as to movies only and as a matter of law, users must choose on a case-by-case basis what movies they want to post on Facebook.

But he concluded:

A law limiting the ability of people to choose to share all of the movies they watch online is not what privacy law should be about. Privacy is about empowering individuals with the ability to choose what information they want to disclose, and to whom. It is not the business of privacy law to decide. 

And Chris explained:

Of course, not everyone wants to share their viewing experiences with their friends online, and they don’t have to share. And if someone prefers to share their video watching experiences on a case-by-case basis, he or she can do so manually. Similarly, a person who chooses to share on a continuous basis can disable the share function before watching a streaming video that he or she wants to exclude from online posting.

As much as some senators may conclude that sharing all the movies you watch is TMI, the law should permit people to share as they choose, and companies should not face legal penalties for providing them with the choice.

The opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle follows Chris’ testimony earlier this year before the Senate Judiciary Privacy Subcommittee.