The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would require social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, to verify the age of users of the site or face a fine of up to $5000 per day.
One of the highlights of State Attorney General Blumenthals’s testimony (a chief architect of the bill) now posted on the state AG’s website, is this choicey tidbit, “If we can put a man on the moon — or invent the Internet — we can reliably check ages.”
The development expenses of an ID system, Apollo-like project or not, can be easily born by MySpace or Facebook, both multi-million dollar firms. However, many smaller sites may have to be taken down altogether if they fail to meet this burden. It seems that MySpace and Facebook would end up benefiting from this as their competition—wikis, user groups, and independent chat-rooms and forums—are forced to close shop and form groups under the legal shelter of MySpace or Facebook.
Aside from the obvious civil liberties infringements of this bill, namely the right to free speech and the right to free assembly, this law is a huge distortion of the social-networking market. This fits with a regulatory pattern that CEI finds frequently in its research. Big firms can weather the regulatory storm while their smaller counterparts are washed away, leaving the big firms with greater costs, but also a larger customer base.
MySpace and Facebook may not be entirely in the clear. $5000 per day for a year of non-compliance would be a hefty sum–$1.8 million. Since I’m yet unable to view the text of the bill I can’t determine if this is per user, but if it is, a single day of fines for MySpace, a site that reports to have 160 million profiles, would be $80 billion. Even Rupert Mudoch’s pockets aren’t that deep!
(The bill’s text is not available online yet, nor is the entire transcript of the recent General Law Committee, at which State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal testified. When this becomes available I will follow up with a both highlighting the bills most fun passages. )
The fact that MySpace and Facebook and the other large social networking sites oppose this bill leads one to believe that even they don’t see an obvious way to cost effective age verification. Real net-neutrality, keeping regulatory burdens off the Internet, is in jeopardy.
My suggestion, IP block the entire state of Connecticut. Let’s let them live in a world without Facebook, MySpace, Google Groups, chat-rooms, forums, IM, and wiki–just some of the services that would require ID under the proposed law.