Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Social Network Users' Bill of Rights...

One of the goals of the recent ACM Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy was to collectively draft a Bill of Rights for online social-network users. They successfully did so, but to what effect?

The goals of this Bill of Rights were rather murky from the outset. As stated on the ACM blog before the conference took place...

A bill of rights sends a message to sites about what their users expect. With enough momentum, it can give user-focused commercial open-source projects an opportunity to distinguish themselves by adopting the rights — and highlight the sites who aren’t willing to. It’s also a way of providing input in the ongoing debates about legislation and regulation. And just as importantly, the discussions around a bill of rights are a great opportunity for education and debate about what kind of online society we want to create.

It's obviously well-intentioned; also, a little hokey.

Take a look for yourself at the final draft of the Social Network Users' Bill of Rights which was ultimately passed by conference attendees.

Of the 14 articles, 13 of them were approved by a unanimous vote. Unanimous! In a technology community defined by the fierce independence of its individuals, this is nothing short of extraordinary - and should have been the first indication that any real substantive issues had failed to be addressed in a meaningful way.

Additionally, the plan is to now present this document to the major social-networking companies. It doesn't take a Facebook power-user to recognize that those companies might have a wee bit of a problem with articles like #9 on Data Portability (which would make it easier for people to switch their profiles to a different social-networking website).

Also, article #12's "Right to Self-Define", which would guarantee people's rights to create more than one identity and use pseudonyms, seems like a recipe for disaster. Not only would that exacerbate problems like online sexual predators, but would greatly hamper law enforcement as well. And really, who even wants this? Reverting back to the early MySpace and Friendster days is hardly high on users' agendas. If anything, this may have been one arena where social-networking sites have actually been getting it right. Ah, irony.

Most of the remainder of the Bill of Rights, again, is well-intentioned and has its heart in the right place. But it's little more than a vague set of general principles. How anyone can think this document will produce meaningful effects is beyond me.


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