Weekly Blog Post # 3 Do we need a Bill of Rights for the social web?

Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. It is a complex and widely discussed topic of the modern age, both offline and online. As we have observed, especially during the past few years, the capacity and capability of the Internet is constantly changing and developing new ways of using it as a communication medium. The abundance of platforms for social networking raises the question of privacy: How much should we expose and is our information protected? Up until 2007 there have not been written rules and there is still no consensus on what online privacy means, who should define it, and what is the golden medium between the consumer and company’s interests.

In September 2007 Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington created the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web which focuses on privacy, and more precisely – on ownership, control & freedom of personal information. Up to this date it has been a continuous debate, but a question that we as users should think twice about. The social media’s Bill of Rights’s core arguments are that online users should have:
Ownership of their own personal information, including:
o their own profile data
o the list of people they are connected to
o the activity stream of content they create;
Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

To me the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web seems fair but quite idealistic. All of the above statements seem to be valid points, having in mind that many platforms do not support true deletion; even deleted or edited information remains on the company’s servers forever. Despite this fact, I personally, still  publish pictures on my Facebook account which is my own decision. We have control of our online behavior and we are responsible for the information we put out there. In addition, we are provided tools to control who is to view our personal information. At the same time, it makes me wonder why I can not share things that I want to share without giving up the ownership of these items. And it makes me wonder why are there 6 different versions of any one of my pictures stored on the site’s servers. Here is an insightful interview with a Facebook employee revealing a few behind the scenes practices and facts which concern the users’ ownership of information. On the other hand, what would happen if social networking sites would give up and deliver the entire content rights to the users by simply providing the service.  Would this freedom then be misused?  I am in a dilemma myself.

Overall, I think it is naive to think that the Bill of Right for users of the social media can be implemented universally, having in mind the number of existing social platforms. Maybe some day the Bill can serve as an ethical guide for the next generation of online social tools. I am convinced that we, and nobody else,  should own our personal information, but unless this changes in terms of  its legality,  if  at all possible, it is up to us to find this perfect balance between living socially and  being private.

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