A Social Website Bill of Rights?



A group of prominent bloggers have proposed a bill of rights for users of the social web.  It is a very concise and focussed statement that accurately covers the issues most people would have regarding their personal information.  I have two uncertainties with this document though.

I admit that the first is slightly pedantic; I have a general issue with the overuse of the concept of ‘fundamental rights’.  There is no inherent obligation on web site owners to offer any specific freedoms to their users.  There are a set of laws to discourage or punish dishonest and corrupt actions.  And there is a set of requirements that their potential users have.  The closer they meet those requirements the more users they will attract.  The title is pretty catchy though, so I could live with it as long as the statements on entitlement and fundamental rights were removed.

Secondly, without an enforcement method this declaration will change little.  In fact its presence could be used by social web companies as a tool to deflect users concerns.  By claiming they meet the bill they can fool users who do not research the reality.  I think I have a way to address this by actually putting IP law to good use.

  • Create a non-profit company, or use an existing one like EFF.
  • Trademark the “bill of rights compliant” tag under the control of the non-profit.
  • License that tag to social web sites that comply with the bill
  • While the license would be at no, or very little charge, build penalties into it for breaches of the code.
  • If sites use the tag without authorization sue them.
  • If sites the license the tag wantonly break the code sue them.

It’s not perfect, but it would work well for controlling the large sites.  The document as it stands is a first draft and will undoubtedly change as it’s merits get debated.  It’s not bad for an opening gambit though.


One thought on “A Social Website Bill of Rights?

  1. First?

    The idea of a “right” is something that two people sign up to, like a contract. Clearly there is no obligation on either side, or it would be invalid.

    However, just like any external reference, or trusted third party, a web site owner who *chooses* to respect the rights of their members will be more likely to attract more. Trust engenders trust.

    This is a strong capitalist motivator. As such, this initiative should be supported. If the users of social media can agree on what “rights” they want, then companies can sign up (or not) to this list of principles – just like an open source license.

    Good job and sign me up.

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