Facebook, Google lobby on ‘revenge porn,’ other tech bills

Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

ALBANY—Facebook and Google have opposed or sought changes to a variety of legislative proposals in New York this session, including bills that would create criminal penalties for “revenge porn” and prohibit employers from demanding access to potential employees' digital accounts.

The companies aren't particularly big spenders in New York. Google spent about $33,000 from November through February, represented by Bolton-St. Johns, and Facebook spent about $22,000 in that time, with Hill, Gosdeck & McGraw, LLC, according to the companies' recent filings.

For the most part, the legislation that the companies are interested in have obvious implications for social networking sites and email service providers.

There are several proposals in Albany to address a type of harassment known as “revenge porn.” It's already illegal in New York to disseminate nude or sexual photos or videos of a person without his or her consent. But increasingly, people have been posting online pornographic images or videos of former sexual partners who consented only in the context of a private relationship.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

“Most important, I want to make sure that any revenge porn bill that is going to come out of Albany is going to include 'selfies,'” Senator Phil Boyle, a Long Island Republican, said about his legislation.

Facebook is on the same page.

“It's a terrible practice, and we're supporting bills to outlaw the practice around the country," said Will Castleberry, Facebook's director of state and local public policy.

Boyle said Facebook reached out to ask for a clarification in the bill regarding liability. Under federal law, social networking sites are not liable for what their users post; also, Facebook has rules against nudity and harassment, and “revenge porn” would violate both of those policies.

Boyle said he was receptive to the changes Facebook was seeking.

“Hopefully we can find a compromise that protects women without any unintended consequences for business,” he said.

Senator Joe Griffo, a Republican from Utica, has a similar bill, which is sponsored by Edward Braunstein in the Assembly. The senator said he hasn't heard from Facebook or other tech companies about the legislation.

“If Zuckerberg wants to call me, I'll talk to him,” Griffo said, referring to Facebook's founder.

Another bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senator Jeffrey Klein, would prohibit employers or educational institutions from requiring a potential or existing employee or student to provide usernames or passwords for social networking sites or other accounts.

Facebook also supports this bill but wanted changes in the language to make sure that it wouldn't be illegal for an employer to send a friend request to an employee. The same idea would be applicable for other sites, such as on Twitter or Instagram, where an employer might follow an employee. Dinowitz said he amended the language to address this concern while also making it illegal for employers to coerce employees to answer such a request.

“There's a lot of personal information that potential employers have no business knowing or asking for,” Dinowitz said.

While Facebook specifically listed the legislation it was lobbying on its disclosure report, Google was less specific. On one report, the company specified that it was lobbying on “Google glass;” there are bills in Albany that would prohibit drivers from using the device behind the wheel. On another filing, Google reported generally that it was lobbying on internet-related issues.

A spokeswoman for Google wouldn't comment on specific legislation.

“Increasingly technology issues are becoming a bigger part of the policy discussion in Albany,” according to the spokeswoman. “We think it is important to be part of that discussion from the beginning and to help policymakers understand that our industry can spur economic growth and innovation.”

Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a Staten Island Democrat, said he heard from Google on a bill that would allow the executor of a deceased person's estate access to his or her digital accounts. He said Google lobbied against an aspect of the bill that would require digital companies to have a uniform policy about what happens to digital accounts when their users die.

“They were very polite, very nice, very respectful—but they didn't like it,” he said.