In Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of “1984”…

We are watching you!

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the year 1984 and the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s epic dystopian novel “1984,” Vernon Coaker the U.K.’s Home Office security minister said the EU Data Retention Directive, under which ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) store communications data does not go far enough. Currently the rules require ISP’s to store data for 12 months. “Social-networking sites such as MySpace or Bebo are not covered by the directive. That is one reason why the government’s looking at what we should do about the Intercept Modernization Program, because there are certain aspects of communications which are not covered by the directive.” said Coaker, speaking at a meeting of the House of Commons Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee. For those that are wondering what is the Intercept Modernization Program, let me explain. The Interception Modernization Program  is a government proposal for legislation to use mass monitoring of traffic data as an anti-terrorism tool. Orwellian indeed…

Ok, so what’s the deal. According to Coaker this change is critical to track terrorist activity in the UK.

It makes one wonder if someone doing something that sinister would use a service like Facebook, MySpace or Bebo to do so? So let’s play what if?

What if…you have a family member currently living in the UK and they use Facebook to send you messages, chat with you and update you. Do you like the thought of someone reading that communication?

What if…you have a business associate that is traveling oversees and sends you a SMS from a text platform, let’s say the text contains confidential business information? How do you feel about that?

What if…someone you love is traveling overseas and chats with you over Facebook chat. Do you enjoy the thought of a government reviewing and saving the chat? Will that change how you behave?

In each case I would be a bit uncomfortable sharing any private, intimate or confidential information and would have some discomfort, but not allot sharing basic small talk.

At the end of the day, the real questions are these…Is this loss of privacy worth a safer world? And do you believe the world will be safer after the loss of privacy? Do you trust a government to keep your secrets a secret when you are not breaking any law?

For those of you that will argue, “why would you feel discomfort unless you have something to hide?” I say “get a life,” that is the same argument that propagated the persecution of people for centuries. I think that argument would fade the second someone starts going through your underwear drawer… :)

In Orwell’s 1984, we have a vivid picture of a government that has justified the infringement on freedom; one that  used speech codes to limit everyone’s ability to understand and used a powerful media to build unwarranted consensus. This fictional government used technology to nip opposition and the result of was humanity denied its freedom to think. No, I am not saying the sky is falling here and I do believe we need to take steps to keep society safe but when is enough, enough? I don’t have a clue what the answer is but whenever I start to feel uncomfortable and like our privacy may be going away I suspect we may be getting close.

Facebook Owns Me, Maybe…

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OK, with the blogosphere going totally nuts about the new Facebook Terms of Service, I thought I would chime in.  First of all, let me catch everyone up.  Recently Facebook updated their Terms of Service (TOS) and here is the part of the new terms that is causing the rift;

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

So, what does all this mean.  The common interpretation is that Facebook owns whatever you post on their site.  Another wrinkle is they own it even after you leave Facebook.

This change in terms has cause numerous groups to be created with the purpose of demanding change, deleting accounts and more (please note to access the previous links you will need to log into Facebook and by doing so you will need to agree to their Terms of Service :) .)  That combined with the numerous blogs (including this one) talking about the subject has lead to an explosion of information and misinformation.

So what does the fearless leader of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg have to say about all this?  Yesterday he posted a lengthy blog post on the Facebook blog.  In order to be fair, I have included without edit, in it’s entirety, Mark’s blog post below;

On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information

A couple of weeks ago, we updated our terms of use to clarify a few points for our users. A number of people have raised questions about our changes, so I’d like to address those here. I’ll also take the opportunity to explain how we think about people’s information.

Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information.

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment.

We still have work to do to communicate more clearly about these issues, and our terms are one example of this. Our philosophy that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant. A lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you. Over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.

Still, the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

We’re at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out. It’s difficult terrain to navigate and we’re going to make some missteps, but as the leading service for sharing information we take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously. This is a big focus for us this year, and I’ll post some more thoughts on openness and these other issues soon.

So there you have it.  The founder of Facebook says they need to own the material to share it properly and they need to own it forever, just in case there is a copy of it in an email or elsewhere on Facebook.  Ok so, the question is…do you buy it?

Every web site has its own Terms of Service and quite frankly, some you are probably using today are much more onerous than Facebook’s.  It’s just that Facebook is sooo big and sooo popular that it receives huge notoriety for each movement it makes.  But does that reasoning give Facebook a pass?  I don’t think so.  As one of the nets largest communities they have a responsibility to keep our information safe and secure, they never should take advantage of us and use caution as they exploit us (yes, exploit us…data mining at Facebook is huge biz in the ad world.)

I produce allot of new media; podcasts, videos, cartoons, audio books, etc… and allot of links to that new media are on Facebook.  Quite frankly, some of that may come down over time or not go up in the first place.  I will have to look at each thing I do and the purpose and decide what is best.  What is at issue is the fact that I have to do that.  I guess on some level I am offended that I need to think through the long term ramifications of placing the media on Facebook, yet at the same time, I understand the legal need for Terms of Service.  Can I have my cake and eat it too?  Is that even possible?

I guess the option of deleting an account is always there but to do so, you need to log into Facebook and by doing so you are agreeing to the Terms of Service and the terms do say that by agreeing to these terms you are granting a perpetual license to Facebook to use your materials…hmmm.  People used to say “do you have a MySpace?” and now the popular term is “do you have a Facebook?”, I wonder what the next catch phrase will be?  Somehow I am guessing it gets here soon.  Maybe it will be “do you still have a Facebook?”

Yelp Reviewer Faces Legal Issues

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One of the cool things about having a phone that can get on-line is going to sites like Yelp.  For those that have never used Yelp on your phone, let me quickly explain.  Go to Yelp, put in your location, put in what you are looking for (i.e. tacos) and up will pop locations that have tacos sorted by their ratings!  Very cool.  If you use Yelp on your computer you can rate, review and talk about the good and “not so good” in your area.   It is a powerful tool that creates amazing word of mouth marketing at the most organic level, the end user.  If you are a business owner, you should be aware of Yelp and keep an eye on the site to see what people think about you.  And unless you have amazing business practices, from time to time reviews will be negative.

That is exactly what happened as  one Yelp reviewer said something negative about a local chiropractor.  Here is the quote:

“I don’t think good business means charging people whatever you feel like hoping they’ll pay without a fuss. Especially considering that I found a much better, honest chiropractor.”

The chiropractor did not like what he read and sued the reviewer Christopher Norberg over the comment.

Now, not being one to judge what is the law and not the law, and whether the reviewer was right or wrong, I can tell you this; the internet community is watching very carefully what happens in this case.  Norberg’s attorney, Michael Blacksburg went on to say  “This strikes at the heart of Yelp’s business model and other Web sites that provide a bulletin board for people to state what they think of businesses in their community. This is clearly Christopher Norberg’s version of conversations with the doctor relating to a billing dispute and his opinion of how the doctor was behaving. This is clear opinion that falls squarely within constitutionally protected speech.”

So I guess what Mom always told us was good advice, “if you have nothing good to say about someone don’t say anything at all.”  Or at least in cyberspace, be very careful how you say it.  Opinion is protected by libel law but just because you declare a statement as opinion it does not necessarily make it one.  If you are a blogger, tweeter, Yelp reviewer or just a commenter on forums and boards you should probably take a peek at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guidelines for blogger’s and web user’s  regarding Online Defamation Law.

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Just like you, I see negative posts all the time.  Are they opinion or a statement of fact?  Sometimes it is hard to tell.   Just remember, count to ten before you post that flaming review/comment and keep yourself out of court.