Connecticut Bill Would Limit Access To User Contact Lists by Social Media Sites

By Martha Kessler

Jan. 26 — Legislation (H.B. 5779) before the Connecticut General Assembly would place limits on how often social media websites could request that consumers provide access to their contact list for purposes of generating unsolicited marketing to those contacts.

If adopted, the Connecticut measure would be the first state statute to restrict such requests, Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R), the bill's sponsor, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 23.

Bolinsky said the intent of the bill is to protect consumers from efforts by social media businesses, such as LinkedIn, to use “deceptive and aggressive practices” to mine visitors' contacts for reasons of unsolicited electronic marketing to those third-party contacts.

He said his interest in the matter was generated by concerns expressed by constituents, as well as his own experience on social media sites where he is continually required to click on the no button in response to requests for access to his contact lists.

“If you are in a hurry, or you click on the wrong button, you are basically giving them authority to raid your e-mail list and contact all your contacts under your name,” Bolinsky said. What really offended him, he said, is that the company was marketing to his contacts under his name without his express permission to represent him.

Sponsor: Similar to Do-Not-Call List 

Bolinsky said the idea behind the statute is tantamount to the right to be on a do-not-call list where consumers can opt-out. For example, he said, consumers are usually prompted or required to update their privacy practices once a year. At that time, a user should be able to opt-in or opt-out of such requests to access their contact list for marketing purposes.

He defined aggressive as being repeated requests, sometimes as many as 30 per visit, to access contact lists.

He said the language of the proposed measure is fairly simple at this time, but will be revised as the issue is discussed by lawmakers. The bill is currently before the General Laws committee, which has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the matter.

Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 26 that “the goal of the bill is understandable—consumers' contact lists shouldn't necessarily be used for aggressive marketing purposes without proper notice and opting in—but the language will have to be fleshed out some more to survive the First Amendment.”

Kamdar said the issue was “who's to say what is ‘aggressive’ and what isn't?” He added that the bill could benefit “from spelling out such a metric, perhaps by highlighting the actions of a specific offender.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martha Kessler in Boston at mkessler@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael O. Loatman at mloatman@bna.com