Social media under the microscope

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Has social media run amok, converting our personal information into a commodity?

“Social media has turned into a gold rush – and we users are the gold,” Lisa Borodkin and Jack Lerner told the San Francisco Gate.

Borodkin is an Internet and media attorney and online journalist. Lerner is a clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic. They claim social media wants to tell us what privacy rights we can expect and what we must forfeit.

There is money in information and, if Borodkin and Lerner are correct, we social media users have let ourselves become the ATM. Facebook, said Borodkin and Lerner, now has a user base larger than the entire population of North America, and that is in just six years.

Social media services reached critical mass because users can share what they want and choose who to share it with. But, according to Borodkin and Lerner, Facebook and other social media sites have not been faithful to their users in respecting our choices of what information gets shared.

Even privacy experts cannot always figure out how to deal with the constant changes to the terms of use, which, said Borodkin and Lerner, provide no real protection anyway. According to them, the changes allow our personal information to be made public and to be shared automatically with other services without our knowledge or consent. Example, any photo you post on Facebook is assigned a unique Web address and can be accessed by anyone without authentication.

“What started out as fun has become downright scary,” the San Francisco Gate article stated. “A disturbing string of deceptive policy changes, glitches, and holes leave us wondering if the titans of social media truly care about user privacy and control. They collect terabytes of our personal information, yet they are treating it as if it’s theirs alone.”

That’s why these two attorneys have put together what they say is long overdue – a specific set of rights. They developed a draft of a Social Media Users’ Bill of Rights and in mid June they took their proposal to the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference in San Jose, California in an effort to hammer out the details.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is working on a bill that is supposed to enhance our data privacy protection. And there is an outcry for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook.

Facebook, on the other hand, dismisses the complaints by consumer advocates because, they say, the public loves the site. That does seem to be true, but Borodkin and Lerner pointed out that there is a growing dissatisfaction, a viral movement away from Facebook, as many members become disillusioned with the double-speak.

As Borodkin and Lerner pointed out, the “Web evolves more quickly than Congress, the FTC, or the private legal process. It is up to each and every one of us to insist on our online rights, whether by voicing protests or building communities with services that respect our rights. Remember: We are the Web.”

After near unanimous passage, with one dissent over data portability, at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference, below is the final version of the rights presented by Borodkin and Lerner.


Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights


We the users expect social network sites to provide us the following rights in their Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, and implementations of their system:

  1. Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service.
  2. Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand.
  3. Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification.
  4. Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility.
  5. Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies.
  6. Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others.
  7. Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first.
  8. Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.
  9. Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data.
  10. Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised.
  11. Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.
  12. Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.
  13. Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions.
  14. Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data.

The authors of the Social Network User’s Bill of Rights invite everyone to vote whether they like this effort on Facebook and Twitter. Soon they plan to present the document to various social network sites.

On Facebook: To vote in favor of the Bill of Rights, or to vote No to the Bill of Rights.

On Twitter, tweet one of the following: @cfpconf: “yes” to the Bill of Rights, or @cfpconf: “no” to the Bill of Rights

Users also can vote via Doodle by name or pseudonym

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