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.