Rights & Privacy on Social Networks

Thanks to Maggie Fox for pointing to John McCrea’s (of Plaxo) Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web

“Ownership of their own personal information, including:

– their own profile data
– the list of people they are connected to
– the activity stream of content they create;
– whether and how such  information is shared with others
– freedom to grant persistent access to trusted external sites.

It’s a good start – especially after receiving invitation spam to join Quechup (not linked to)– a social networking site that apparently doesn’t think users have rights. Shortly after receiving their invite – I received a very apologetic email for the friend who had “invited” me. He  hadn’t knowingly approved the mass invite and was aghast that his reputation was being used to promote a site that spammed his friends. But for his fast response I too might be in the same boat.

Ross Mayfield has an interesting post on Social Networking and Privacy that explores this issue. He notes that given enough members companies like Quechup end up being able to characterize your relationships even if you never join – because they can map you through people who know you.

Of course this is more insidious than FaceBook’s opening your profile to search engines. They’d likely argue that you can opt out of having your profile exposed – but if privacy and your rights were what mattered shouldn’t you have to opt in to exposure?

All this gets back to Maggie’s post on Shiv Singh research on Social Networks.  Once networks reach 5M members their growth rapidly accelerates – which provides all manner of incentive to grow quickly. Of course it likely applies only when the growth to 5M occurs from providing recurring value to users – and respecting their rights.

Much of these problems would disappear if social applications were separated from the social graph they need to run. Users them could choose among providers – who presumably would compete on a range of functionality – including how they protected your privacy.