Computer guru Tim O’Reilly makes a half-hearted attempt to justify (or at least explain) Facebook’s latest privacy grab. But I find the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bill of Rights for social media users (which O’Reilly quotes at length) much more compelling:
Users have the right to:
1. Honesty: Tell the truth. Don’t make our information public against our will and call it “giving users more control.” Call things what they are.
2. Accountability: Keep your word. Honor the deals you make and the expectations they create. If a network asks users to log in, users expect that it’s private. Don’t get us to populate your network based on one expectation of privacy, and then change the rules once we’ve connected with 600 friends.
3. Control: Let us decide what to do with our data. Get our permission before you make any changes that make our information less private. We should not have data cross-transmitted to other services without our knowledge. We should always be asked to opt in before a change, rather than being told we have the right to opt out after a change is unilaterally imposed.
4. Transparency: We deserve to know what information is being disclosed and to whom. When there has been a glitch or a leak that involves our information, make sure we know about it.
5. Freedom of movement: If we want to leave your network, let us. If we want to take our data with us, let us do that, too. This will encourage competition through innovation and service, instead of hostage-taking. If we want to delete our data, let us. It’s our data.
6. Simple settings: If we want to change something, let us. Use intuitive, standard language. Put settings in logical places. Give us a “maximize privacy settings” button, a and a “delete my account” button.
7. Be treated as a community, not a data set: We join communities because we like them, not “like” them. Advertise to your community if you want. But don’t sell our data out from under us.
[This last sentence is O'Reilly's and not the Chronicle's] Everyone is right to hold Facebook’s feet to the fire as long as they fail to meet those guidelines.
Yes, the Chronicle Bill of Rights seems like common sense ethics to me. The problem is that I am not convinced Facebook’s latest privacy grab is even close to meeting these guidelines. Zuckerberg and others can continue to push the frontiers, but they should do it in ways that respect their members.
Personally, I go into the online world with the expectation that there is no privacy. And therefore the specific changes don’t bother me over-much. But as someone who writes about ethics, I have a problem with obtaining consent for one restricted set of behaviors and then wildly expanding it while requiring opt-out (and difficult opt-out at that) rather than opt-in. It’s nothing more than an electronic form of bait-and-switch–something I find unethical and in fact argue against in my latest book on business ethics, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson).
Yet in the video included in the blog, O’Reilly makes a compelling case that Facebook’s privacy failures and the resultant pushback are essential to pushing the frontier, and that a lot of the innovations that seemed to threaten privacy were actually welcomed once people got used to them. O’Reilly says he’s more worried about Apple than Facebook. I, however, worry more about Google (which he also mentions in the video), which owns an extreme amount of personal data and has a very cavalier attitude toward copyrighted material