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User Rights on Social Networks?

This post actually mixes up some of the things I attended or read the last 2 days. One thing was a discussion happening yesterday in Second Life about what Rights avatars should have. There is also the „Declaration of the Rights of Avatars“ by Raph Koster (in which he quotes Jacob Hallen from IgorMud and I wonder if that’s the same Jacob Hallen I know as a EuroPython organizer. I should ask him next time I see him but I am quite it is according to the fact that IgorMud seemed to be running at Chalmers). Now all this really sound a bit big on the first glance but can nevertheless can be taken as guidelines for community management. The good thing with these networks is that it’s easier to leave them if you are not happy with how you get treated (which is a bit harder with a country).

The other thing I came across was episode 309 of the F.I.R. podcast in which the discussion about Scoble, Facebook and Plaxo continues. Bernie Goldbach let’s his students tell their opinion about the incident and what it came down to was „Friends don’t scrape friends“ (at timecode 39:10). So that basically means that many people there are unhappy to have their data exported (probably if they haven’t allowed this). It also ties into a discussion I took part in on the dataportability mailinglist where I was talking about permissions and maybe the need of a permission which says „show up as contact in social network X“ (e.g. on most social networks you can actually always see the contact list, on Xing you can at least disable your own contact list but cannot prevent that you show up on other people’s list.).

Now this all might come down to the question if some general set of rights or policies for social networks in general (I just put virtual worlds into the same category here). Some examples might be:

  • the right to join
  • the right to leave (and get all your data deleted!)
  • the right to stay invisible (do not show up in contact list)
  • the right to export your data (all of it’s not data of one of your contacts and they haven’t allowed it)
  • the right to define which data is available to whom in which context (should it be exportable or just visible on the site or not at all)

There are of course more possible and we might look other people’s work such as Raph’s to get it more complete.

A big problem might be the right to prevent people from using your personal data. Think of targeted advertising which many sites do use and where your personal data is needed for it to work. So there’s a conflict of user rights and business model. Not sure how this can be solved but I also think that privacy should also be high on the priority list (e.g. Linden Lab is logging all chats in Second Life for some undisclosed timeframe. There again might be some tradeoff here as it’s used to handle abuse reports but nevertheless all these social networks and virtual worlds seem to be Big Brother in best practice).

The question now is if such a list is really needed (probably, as the Scoble/Facebook incident showed) and who actually should put it up. Of course enforcement is a different topic as it’s up to the users to enforce it either by protesting or leaving. I think Raph formulates it quite nicely in the introduction of his article.

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