Exploring the world of social media

WEEKLY #3: A Bill of Rights for the Social Web

I love Google.Yeah, I know … they seem to be taking over the world, but I can’t help but to love them.

I can’t live without my Gmail, Google calendar, Google groups, Google docs, Google analytics, Gchat, and now my Google Reader (thanks Garrett and Mike!). And let’s not forget the all powerful Google search.

So when Google introduced it’s latest product, Buzz, I imagined the potential for another feature I just couldn’t get enough of. I completed my Buzz registration, linked my Twitter and Flickr accounts, and set up my profile. And then I waited to be amazed by the awesomeness of the Buzz.

That feeling never really came to me (in fact, I swear my Buzz is broken), but what I did stumble across almost immediately was an article about Google Buzz’s major privacy flaw. The article explained how because Buzz automatically created public follower lists based on who users email and chat with the most, people would be able to see who you communicate with most frequently. GASP! Why in the world had I not thought of this when I signed up for Buzz?! I didn’t want people to know who I talk to most often (although I admittedly was curious to find out this information about a few other people). I immediately went back into Buzz and changed my profile settings.

I would suspect that a lot of people were like me in that they didn’t really consider the privacy issue when they first signed up for Buzz. We’ve become so comfortable with seeing our information used in various ways, without our explicit consent. Gmail ads are related to the content of our emails. Facebook ads are related to our relationship status. Plaxo suggests people you might know, even without you visiting its site.  And the list goes on.

As the social Web is only used more widely, it’s important to establish some guidelines for this medium.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson once said, “[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.” — December 20, 1787.

What is a bill of rights? In simple terms, it’s a guarantee or promise. And in the case of the U.S. government, it was a reassurance to individual citizens that the larger system of government would never infringe upon basic freedoms and rights.

Does the social Web require its own bill of rights? A guarantee, of sorts, for the millions of people using social media tools each day? While it’s hard to identify one central governing system for all of the social Web, as we can do with the U.S. government, pushing for a commonly accepted set of rights for social Web users sounds like a pretty good idea to me. After all, social media — with its amazing tools for creation, publishing, and collaborating — is a platform that allows us to share personal information with an unlimited number of others. We own this personal information, and as such, we have an undeniable right to decide how our personal information “property” is shared and used.

In September 2007, Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington authored the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web. Below are the key tenets of the the declaration:

  1. Ownership of our own personal information.
  2. Control of whether and how such personal information is used.
  3. Freedom to grant persistent access to our personal info.

These points are well-done and seek to create controls in a internet world that often seems pretty chaotic. But based on my experience with Google Buzz, I might suggest one more addition: “Ask users for permission first.” It’s obvious that social media platforms want to grow their networks, but they do so at the cost of publishing personal information that doesn’t belong to them.

Google has been forced to update its privacy policy and incorporate more transparency, which ultimately is what the social Web needs.


1 Comment»

[…] fact, I already professed my love for Google in a previous post. And that’s because, like so many other people, I really find tremendous value in the things […]

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