In an apparent bid to boost its profile, establish a more serious position in the industry, and begin to chart a stronger direction for its activities, the FTC is in the news again, this time with a warning.
According to The Hill, this morning the FTC’s commissioner Julie Brill admitted that social websites, both tools and networks it would seem, have changed how people interact with information, especially in how they share it. However, she stated that such sharing “can’t be forced.” This seems to set firm government policy on what will be considered kosher, and what will be deemed as over the line.
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Now, while the FTC is standing up a bit more than before, it’s hardly wielding a stiff cudgel; I doubt that it has much intention of trying to enact harsh penalties if any of the largest social websites steps a bit out-of-bounds, but these sort of statements do set up invisible fences that will likely be respected.
What the FTC is saying is common sense, and so to respect its views should not be too hard for the companies that would most likely incur its displeasure if its dictums were flaunted. Again via Hillicon Valley, Brill characterized her views in the following way: “for those who choose [to share] … but they cannot make that choice for the users. [T]aking is not sharing.” I expect Facebook to toe the line on this issue, given how powerful it is to employ user images in certain forms of ads, but the principle that Brill is outlining is solid.
User choice should be explicit. We don’t want to get back into the negative-option world, now do we?
All of this underscores what I have been arguing now for some time: the age in which the Valley was an attractive fundraising stop, but little more, and something that could be mostly ignored during the rest of the year, is over. Technology is political, and politics are technological. As technology increases in power, that will only become all the more true. Expect the FTC to stand on its soapbox a little longer.