US sites, foreign social networking

When the user-driven social Web meets the fairly evolved consumer-privacy and free-speech laws of the US (where many social-networking sites are based) meets the laws and sensibilities of the country where the US company's customers are, things get complicated. And very messy, sometimes. Take Brazil, for example. There, Google's social-networking site Orkut.com "has become a major center of Brazilian social life, with two-thirds of all Internet surfers using the service, many of them children, the Wall Street Journal reports. And some of them criminals. While many Orkut "communities were built around such themes as soccer, love and overcoming injustice" (almost 400,000 people are members of a group called "My mother is the best on Earth"), "criminal elements also connected with each other and recruited sympathizers on the site, including neo-Nazis, organized gangs and pedophiles." So early on, in its zeal to protect its users' free speech and privacy, Google was much less responsive to Brazilian users' complaints and law-enforcement subpoenas than some prosecutors – and potential advertisers – in Brazil found satisfactory. Thus the story of how one country – and its watchdogs, in the business community and children's advocacy – is dealing with the social Web, an interesting case study for everyone interested in this intersection of law enforcement, civil liberties, and the social Web.


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