Following up on Technology Predictions for 2012


So we’re about halfway through 2012, and I thought it would be a good time to see how my predictions for hot topics in social media and the law are playing out.  

1. Privacy

Privacy has certainly continued to be a hot topic for social media sites, users and regulators.  Both Google and Facebook have entered into settlements with the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly misrepresenting their respective privacy policies to consumers by allowing advertisers to access users’ information.   As part of these settlements, the companies have agreed to 20 years of audits by independent third parties in accordance with the FTC’s order to ensure that the companies are abiding by their privacy policies in how they handle the data they collect.  In addition, the sites have agreed to create and maintain comprehensive privacy protection programs to address users’ concerns, obtain consent from consumers before making changes to their privacy protections, and work to avoid misrepresenting their privacy policies to consumers.  I doubt these are the last social media companies to reach such settlements, and we as social media professionals should work to learn from these cases to avoid running afoul of such rules.

2. Kids and Teens Online

The use of social media by kids and teens also remains firmly ensconced in the headlines.  As Facebook has previously lobbied to have the age restriction portion of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, changed, and has announced new resources for families, it is clear that the company wants to try to address children’s privacy matters on its own terms.   The recent announcement that Facebook is increasing its age limit to 15 years of age from 13, and rolled out other related changes to the service show that the company is trying out its own kids’ privacy measures.  This will certainly be an area to keep an eye on as the government and social media companies work to address how best to keep children safe online.    

3. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property in the online space continues to be a hot area.  This year has already brought some interesting headlines in this area, particularly in regard to how intellectual property rights are addressed in a site’s terms of use.  Companies such as Pinterest, Dropbox, and Google have all experienced this in recent months, as users expressed concerns about how the respective sites’ terms of use addressed how the service handled matters of copyright, data collection, and how that data is used.  In the case of Pinterest, users were upset about their potential liability for posting images that may infringe the copyrights of the images’ owners, as well as terms that gave the company the right to sell the data that its users provided.  The copyright language in the terms of use for Dropbox and Google Drive also raised users’ eyebrows, as the respective sites’ terms of use stated that users were granting the companies rights to the data and documents uploaded to their sites.  Look for more issues like these to pop up as social media progresses in 2012 and beyond, as users and companies grapple with them.  

4. Social Media in the Workplace

Like the other topics in this post, issues in regard to social media in the workplace are certainly hot this year.  Headlines earlier this year brought the trend of employers asking interview candidates for their Facebook and other social media passwords to light.  The U.S. Congress and some state legislatures, in particular the Maryland state legislature, have considered bills offering greater protection for individuals from being asked to share social media passwords with their potential employers.  These issues will continue to evolve, and both employers and employees will need to keep an eye on them and how best to comply as related laws and standards come to fruition.  

5. IPOs and Funding

This topic almost goes without mentioning as a hot topic given all of the headlines that have run in regard to the recent Facebook IPO.  Investors have already filed lawsuits against Facebook for disclosing lower estimates to large investors during the IPO than those that were available to the public at that time, and there have been rumblings that class action lawsuits may be filed against the company as well.  There will certainly be lessons learned from this IPO, and it will be interesting to see if the SEC takes action against any Facebook or the banks involved in the IPO, and whether any changes in the law result from those actions.  

A related hot topic is that of raising money through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.  So far this year, lots of interesting projects have raised significant sums of money through these sites, from the Pebble smart watch to financing for Amanda Palmer’s next album, the latter of which has raised over $1 million dollars.  It’s definitely spawning creative attempts to raise money for new ventures, and changing the game in terms of how smaller projects or companies raise money.  This topic will only get more interesting once that Securities and Exchange Commission releases its rules for how the JOBS Act that was passed recently in the U.S. Congress, which expands opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to raise money through crowdfunding through small offerings.  

So that’s where we are halfway through 2012.  Provided that the Mayans are wrong, we’ll revisit this in December and see how matters of social media and the law develop the rest of the year.  As always, this post is intended to be informational, and hopefully a bit entertaining, and should not serve as a substitute for the advice of a licensed attorney in your area.  

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