Do We Need a Social Media Bill of Rights?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – With the debate about privacy and information affecting virtually every tool on the Internet, panelists at the South by Southwest Interactive conference drafted a proposal for a Social Network Bill of Rights.

At the annual conference and festival dedicated to music, film and emerging technologies, four panelists – from intellectual property lawyers to media executives – came up with what may come to be a founding document for social media sites moving forward. The list includes 14 tenets that the group believes social networks should agree to honor including honesty, freedom of speech, protection of privacy and control over personal data.

Many have often questioned the virtually unchallenged control that social networks have when it comes to adjusting the terms of service or the end user license agreement, which is the form you consent to when registering for a website.

Facebook has come under fire for changing its privacy policy to make it more difficult for users to opt out of many privacy settings and applications. Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) caused a minor uproar with Google Buzz when the site wouldn’t allow users to control what personal information could or could not be seen.

“The cost of leaving Facebook with these connections can be too great for some people,” said panelist Jack Lerner, a law professor at the University of South California and the director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic. “People put so much information on it and invested a lot into it only to have the rug pulled out from under them.”

If perhaps only for that reason, panelists argued that setting out some guidelines is essential.

“It’s not whether a bill of rights is needed or is not needed. It can be something useful as a tool to clarify users’ expectations, to clarify our desires, and to educate ourselves if companies violate our privacy,” Lerner said.

Some voiced concern, though, that a bill of rights would limit competition in the rapidly-innovating field and that restrictions on what social media companies can do with users’ information would restrict their revenue options and possibly cause them to charge users a fee.

As a result, some like Lisa Borodkin, an entertainment and internet attorney and technology analyst, argue that a bill of rights would actually create more competition because it would break up this monopoly.

A bill of rights is still on the table and has not reached congress although last December, the Department of Justice issued a green paper on commercial data privacy within the Internet and similarly, the Federal Trade Commission released a report on protecting consumer privacy for businesses. Both organizations considered possibly enforceable guidelines on the protection of data and privacy for consumers.

Here’s the list of the proposed rights:

1.    Honesty – honor your privacy policy and TOS
2.    Clarity – make sure your policies, settings and TOS are easy to understand and find
3.    Freedom of speech – don’t delete or modify what people say without clear policy
4.    Empowerment – support assistive technologies and universal accessibility
5.    Self-protection – support privacy enhancing technologies
6.    Data minimization – less is more, don’t require people to give a ton of data to get access – minimize data I’m required to provide and what’s shared with others
7.    Control – let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first
8.    Predictability – give notice before changing how data is shared
9.    Data portability – make it easy for me to get a copy of my data
10.    Protection –treat my data as securely as your own
11.    Right to know – show me how you’re using my data and allow me to see who has access
12.    Right to self define – let me create more than one identity
13.    Right to appeal – let me appeal punitive actions
14.    Right to withdraw – right to delete my account and associated data

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