Online privacy concerns increase proportionally to the number of new social networking sites that pop up and the number of people who partake in those services. Recently, hubbub surrounding Facebook privacy put the issue at the forefront of discussions. “The underlying idea is that Facebook likes to describe itself as equivalent to the third-largest country in the world,” said John Pincus, chief technology officer for software company Qworky. He continued, “What rights do the citizens of that country have?”

Pincus was also co-chairman of the 20th annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference (CFP2010), sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery. The national event is self-described as “the leading policy conference exploring the impact of the Internet, computers and communications technologies on society,” and took place in San Jose a couple of weeks ago. One of the outcomes of CFP2010 is a 14-point manifesto, the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights, which addresses privacy and related issues and was released on June 23.

There were roughly 250 attendees at CFP2010, comprised of various individuals within the field, including representatives of bigger companies like Google and government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. Not all attendees participated in the collaborative creation of the Bill, but those who did adopted the list unanimously. The creators are now seeking input from the community at large, and invite interested parties to vote on it.

Ways in which you can give your input include:

The response so far has been slightly tepid, both from the social networks and their users. Facebook has said it opposes some of the items on the list, including the use of pseudonyms, and both Google and Twitter decline to comment. Despite strong online coverage of the topic, the #BillofRights Facebook page has only about 255 fans.

The Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights can be found in its entirety below.

We the users expect social network sites to provide us the following rights in their Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, and implementations of their system:

  1. Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service
  2. Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand
  3. Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification
  4. Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility
  5. Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies
  6. Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others
  7. Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first
  8. Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data
  9. Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data
  10. Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised
  11. Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it
  12. Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission
  13. Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions
  14. Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data

Source: Computers, Freedom, and Privacy blog (various posts)
Source: “Final version: Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights,” Computers, Freedom, and Privacy blog, 06/18/10
Source: “Online privacy: ‘Bill of rights’ for social networking debated in San Jose,”, 06/18/10
Image by Jonathan Nightingale on Flickr, used under its Creative Commons license.

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