Friday, 14 May 2010

Rejecting social networks as good idea poorly executed - bring on the rebellion

The blogosphere is a truly useful tool for keeping in touch with new world ideas. Social networks on the other hand contain considerable risk to those that 'give up' their data to them. Few are aware or are even concerned about how their data is stored or used. None of us know how this data will be used or abused in the years to come. Inevitably a whiplash occurs when people begin to reject improper use of personal data, as seems to be ocurring among Facebook users. In the UK we have the Data Protection Act which is designed to protect consumer electronic databases. For instance, eScience's Sakai user data cannot be exported outside of our Sakai server without express permission of the data owners, that is, the user's that submitted the content or the creators of the worksites. Since people presently volunteer data to Facebook under their terms and conditions of data ownership they are not covered by its regulation (although this 'exemption' remains untested in UK courts as far as I am aware).

Never in world history have we as a race given so much away for free; without even a cautious second glance.... Marketers will be looking at this world scale experiment with glee. If you use Facebook to its fullest extend everything you submit is contained within it forever more; even complete Facebook suicide is difficult to accomplish as long term backups are unlikely to reflect your change of heart. This means that your social graph that reflects who you are, what you have done and where you have been could be accessible to everyone with an interest in your life whether you like it or not. This is an anthropologists dream come true...

It is refreshing to read a BBC blog by Maggie Shiels that describes the Anti-Facebook group. These are a group of postgraduates from Columbia University that formed the Diaspora Project. The Diaspora project develops open source social environment designed to put peoples' own data back into their ownership. We support this notion to the fullest extent, as evidenced by our past and current endeavours. At Lancaster eScience we are deeply critical of cloud services that own peoples' data and last year began the Collaborative Research in Business (CRIB) project (see earlier blogs for a fuller description). CRIB is a JISC funded project designed to develop 'safe' social networking tools within the Sakai environment. It is now reaching maturity and the software is embedded into Sakai 2.7 that will become available later this year. Note that we are not against social networks in any respect, in fact, the social network revolution has shown us that the online world can support collaborations that people endear themselves to. We are only rebelling against the issues surrounding abuse of personal data. We support a social rebellion seeking security for personal data. In this sense, does our rebellion imply that we seek to overthrow the dark lord of social networks, Mark Zuckerberg? Not at all, his concept of Facebook is as good as it was when it first launched on the Harvard Campus during 2004. It is its poor legal execution we seek to change. In view of our stand, we support the Diaspora project and all that it stands for.

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