Monday, June 21, 2010

Networkers' Bill of Rights

An influential group of Silicon Valley tech activists are circulating a petition across the Web that calls for a Social Network Users Bill of Rights. As reported here earlier, the group met last week at the 2010 Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in San Jose to hammer out the document, a response to the ongoing Facebook privacy uproar and concern over Goggle Buzz's recent release of users' top email contacts.

Here's what emerged:

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.

What do you think? Google and Twitter have, so far, declined to comment; a Google spokesperson said the company already has its own set of posted privacy standards. Facebook, when asked to comment on the principles by the San Jose Mercury News, issued a prepared statement, which said that while Facebook shares the goal of ensuring "a safe and trusted environment" for its users, "we don't agree with all of the proposed elements" of the Bill of Rights, including any provision that would let people use pseudonyms.

Petition organizers are hoping to get widespread support for the document, regardless. "A networking Bill of Rights is a tool that users can use for education and empowerment," said Jack Lerner, director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic and one of the drafters. Jon Pincus, a co-chairman of the conference, added that "Facebook, with its 400 million users, likes to describe itself as equivalent to the third-largest country in the world. But what rights do the citizens of that country have? Users of social networks need to know about how some of their rights are being subverted and need to know how to protect themselves."

What do you think? Noble pipe dream, or the start of something big? Go here to vote in favor of the petition; go here to vote against it.

-- Marcia Stepanek


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