Social networking ‘bill of rights’ is overdue

Published 6:14 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

When our Founding Fathers gathered more than 200 years ago to craft the original Bill of Rights, they could never have imagined the need for Bill of Rights for social networking.

But in this information age, as social media such as Facebook and Twitter, continue to broaden their reach into our society on every level, that need is becoming more and more apparent.

This week, a group of forward-thinking computer scientists, privacy advocates and concerned citizens have been meeting in San Jose, Calif., under the guise of “Freedom and Privacy.” During their four-day conference, they have worked to draft a “bill of rights” for social network users, a basic outline of the rights all users of social media should reasonably expect the services and websites to reasonably honor.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And, when you think about the vast amounts of private information being shared via these social networking sites – from birth dates to children’s names to what you ate for lunch – it’s easy to understand just how much personal information these websites can access.

Most of us blindly trust them with our information. Perhaps, as these privacy advocates would caution us, we should think twice.

The draft of the social network users’ bill of rights includes simple, yet powerful, expectations:

Honesty and clarity in the terms of services, urging companies to do what they say and to explain their policies clearly.

Freedom of speech, censoring only with a clear policy and justification.

Security, treating users’ data as securely as “your own” and notifying users if it’s compromises. Moreover, minimizing the amount of information users are required to provide and giving users control over how that data is shared.

Right to know, showing users how sites are using their data and allowing them to see who has access to it.

And the right to self-define, creating more than one profile or identity and not have them linked without permission, and the right to leave, allowing users to delete their accounts and take their data with them.

These are, after all, simple expectations – ones that most social media users probably think are already in place. Unfortunately, they aren’t in place.

And that’s why we need a “bill of rights” that is adopted and honored by social networking sites.