Introducing the Social Network User's Bill of Rights

Back in May, privacy online was the number one issue on everyone’s minds. Facebook was in the middle of a huge fiasco over their privacy settings, Google was in hot water over the non-secure launch of Buzz, and AT&T and other companies had been called out for not doing enough to protect consumers’ data. Facebook’s privacy issues were the most notorious and severe, prompting the Electronic Frontier Foundation to propose a Bill of Rights of sorts for its users. They called for three basic principles that all social network users should demand: the right to informed decision making, the right to use and disclose their own data, and the right to completely delete their information should they decide to deactivate their account.

This past week a conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy in a Networked Society convened in San Francisco, CA to “set the agenda for our rights on the networks,” and “to secure ourselves against the threats of information technology.” The highlight of the event was the last day when debate and then voting on a conclusory Bill of Rights for all social media took place. In a town hall type debate, participants commented and voted on the issues as the document was edited in real time on Google Docs.

The start of the debate was about how terms of service are not written such a way where non-lawyer users can understand it in a meaningful way. Attendees complained that “honesty” and “clarity” could be interpreted in many ways and that there was no set standard on what those words meant. Also, they voiced disapproval for sites having the ability to edit user posts. On Facebook for example, some longer posts are edited to have an ellipses (…) and then a link underneath where the user can click to “See More” of the comment. This, it was argued, goes against the notion of freedom of speech on the site and that editing comments could inadvertently skew their meaning.

At the end of the day there were 14 unanimously favored principles, including: honesty, clarity, freedom of speech, empowerment, self-protection, data minimization, control, predictability, data portability, protection, right to know, right to self-define, right to appeal and right to withdraw. The document reads as follows:

Text of Social-Network Users” “Bill of Rights”

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


Since the debate and vote Facebook has said that it disagrees with some of the principles set forth but that it shares the goal of ensuring a “safe and trusted environment” for its nearly 500 million users. The other companies involved declined to comment. Details about how to vote through Facebook and Twitter can be found here.

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