Time to write our own rules

So I’ve been reading Dave Winer, Ethan Zuckerman, Jeff Jarvis, David Wienberger and Wendy Seltzer, all of whom have problems with what Facebook is doing with its members’ data.

Dave in particular is looking for action:

There are thorny issues here, but we want these companies to give up control of our information, and we don’t want them to be overly scared of public opinion as they do it.

And this is hardly the most important giving up of control. Most important, I want them to give me control of my data.

 MoveOn.org, in a move far afield from their original mission, has created a petition for us to sign. It reads, “Facebook must respect my privacy. They should not tell my friends what I buy on other sites–or let companies use my name to endorse their products–without my explicit permission.”

At this point the voice of Jim Morrison rises from my subconscious, announcing the opening stanza from Soft Parade in the homiletic voice of a preacher from a pulpit:

When I was back there in seminary school
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the lord with prayer
Petition the lord with prayer
You cannot petition the lord with prayer!

Morrison screams that last line, in manner later perfected by the also-late Sam Kinison. My own version: Stop petitioning Facebook and Google to solve our problems for us. They’re not creating those problems alone. We’re been allowing them to create those problems in the first place, and we’ve been doing that for too long. Time to come up with some new rules of engagement — ones that work for us as well as them.

Dave, Scott Rafer and others rightly call on MoveOn.org to get back to its original mission and stay out of tech territory. But MoveOn has something right in its last four words: without my explicit permission. Question: How do we exercise that permission? By what protocols? What tools? What policies? What agreements?

Dave provides the answer:

So before we overly politicize the leading edge of technology, let’s get together on what actually does and doesn’t serve the user’s interest.

I want Netflix and Yahoo to give me an XML version of my movie ratings, for me to decide what to do with. I’ve been asking for this for a couple of years, I still don’t have it. This is information I created. I want to keep a copy. I want to make sure that Netflix knows about all my Yahoo ratings and vice versa. I’d like to give a copy to Facebook (assuming they agree to not disclose it) and maybe to Amazon, so they can recommend products I might want to purchase (again keeping it to themselves). I want to begin a negotiation with various vendors, where I give them something of value, and they give me back something of value. Permalink to this paragraph

The leaders of Silicon Valley begrudgingly gave up their view of us as couch potatoes, now they think of us as generators of content they can put ads on (and pay us nothing). We still need to work on that respect thing.

The boldface in the first paragraph is mine. Because that’s what we need to do. It’s not enough to petition the likes of Facebook to give us our data. We need to create the rules by which our data can be used. When we sign on as “members” of some company’s “social network”, they need to sign our terms as well. From the start.

For too long we’ve lived with “relationship management” that’s asymmetrical and one-way. Creating the grounds for symmetrical relationships cannot be the job of Facebook, Google, Microsoft or any big company. They can’t do it, and they won’t. We can’t petition those lords with prayer, blogs, or anything else. (Well, we can, but it won’t be enough.)

We need to create our own new rules — ones that protect our privacy while making us better members of the social and business systems we create together. I say “better” because that’s what we’re bound to be when we cease being eyeballs and start acting like whole human beings.

This very topic, by the way, is at the heart of VRM.

By the way, a great place to start doing the work Dave calls for here is the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View, the week after next. These workshops are among the most constructive (un)conferences I’ve ever been to, and I’m not just saying that because I’m one of the organizers. Good work always happens there, in three days of serious barn-raising.

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.


  1. Privacy Concerns over Facebook Continue To Build | JOBMATCHBOX’s avatar

    […] Searls joined in the discussion with this: ‘Time to write our own rules’ and ‘Making Rules, […]

  2. Selina’s avatar

    I’ve been thinking along similar lines for quite a while, especially since NewsCorp took over MySpace, increasingly social networking is commercialised. There needs to be a Wikipedia of social networking…

  3. Kaila Colbin’s avatar

    Doc, I’m with you and Jeneane: Facebook got it wrong on this one. It is one thing to obtain and maintain personal data. It is another thing entirely to broadcast it. And while it will be great if we can get the bulk of the webgoing population to take back control via individualized ToS and the like, the reality is that most people just won’t go to the effort.

    All is not lost, though! You may not want people to petition Facebook to solve our problems, but after petition comes ‘letting your social network usage do the talking.’ FB needs to take quick action or face a mass exodus—something that I hope would be a lesson to other marketers wondering how they can exploit the social graph.

    My two posts on the topic here:
    Facebook: Beacon of Marketing Genius or Privacy Pirate? Part I
    Facebook Beacon, Part II

  4. Cuts from FIR #296 : NevilleHobson.com’s avatar

    […] Following up on MoveOn’s campaign against Facebook Beacon ads […]

  5. Marc’s Voice » Blog Archive » Go out and kick some ass - Doc’s avatar

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  6. Nick Anstead » links for 2007-11-26’s avatar

    […] Doc Searls Weblog · Time to write our own rules Doc Searl Facebook (tags: Facebook Social privacy web2.0) […]

  7. Slamlander’s avatar

    In the classic words of Pogo; “We have met the enemy and they are us!”

    Yes, we are upset because Google, FaceBook, et al, treat the data about us, that we cheerfully give them, as their property, to do with whatever they will. I agree and that’s why I don’t give them that data. That data is the fundimental reason for their existance and without it, they have no viable business model. Personally, I am unwilling to give it them without some better quid pro quo than what they are offering. That’s why I still have only a Livejournal account and self-host my own blogs.

    The thing is, the next logged-in user is cheerfully giving them the keys to their kingdom for free. Unless that changes, you are never going to make a dent in their armor. Yes, people are stupid and what is it that PT Barnum once said? “No one ever went broke underestimating humanity.” Facebook et al are proving that truism every millisecond.

    Yes, if people were more careful with what they give out for free then FaceBook at al, might not exist and social networking sites wouldn’t have the current buzz. I don’t think of that as a bad thing.

    Yes, there probably needs to be some regulation in this sector because people are generally too stupid to protect themselves (I cite the current instance proofs of Google, FaceBook, et al). This, by definition, politicizes the entire argument!

    We can’t even use the Consumer Protection laws because there is no contract. The users are getting to use the site for free, little thinking that those servers, software, and tools, magically appear from nothing. No, it’s not really free. You freely give them your soul and personal data. What’s more, you don’t even have to give it to them, to use their site. They will let peer pressure do their work for them. They just make it easy for you and cheerfully remove all the speed bumps in the path of you giving them all the data they need for their business model.

    Like I said, people are generally stupid. At least, with Amazon and my paid LiveJournal account, I have a contract that can be enforced, and has strict implied Consumer Privacy Protections built in.

  8. John’s avatar

    So you waste your time actually paying attention to anything Move-On says? Left-Wing fascism at its best.

  9. BillinDetroit’s avatar

    nofollow is enabled

    YOU are collecting my data without even the most minimal of compensation for it. AFAICT, this is ‘the pot calling he kettle black’.

    So you got a throwaway email address. It works … but not for long.

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    BillinDetroit, can you unpack what you’re saying here. I *think* i know what it is, but don’t want to assume too much. Thanks.

  11. Between the Lines mobile edition’s avatar

    […] Doc Searls advocates a peaceful rebellion, with members of various social networks creating the rules to protect privacy because the social networks and other entities that control user data are not interested in a more symmetrical relationship. For too long we’ve lived with “relationship management” that’s asymmetrical and one-way. Creating the grounds for symmetrical relationships cannot be the job of Facebook, Google, Microsoft or any big company. They can’t do it, and they won’t. We can’t petition those lords with prayer, blogs, or anything else. (Well, we can, but it won’t be enough.) […]

  12. This Old Network » Blog Archive » OpenLifeBits - For Your Digital Stuff’s avatar

    […] watching and reading about social network portability and data portability and OpenID and facebook beacon and doc searls’ vendor relationship management and Obama’s call for open formats and […]

  13. Facebook Beacon’s avatar

    […] have complained, I’m hoping this is one of these times. But the macro level story is that we DO need to create rules when it comes to personal information we put into a social network. But one has to ask; where is […]

  14. christina’s avatar

    There is a larger problem at work. We depend on companies, yet they have no motivation to act in our best interest. We have a government that barely protects us, and corporate law literally prevents corporations from choosing the moral over the profitable. Obviously private companies have a better ability to stick to their guns (assuming they have guns) but as we saw with Google, they can forced to go public once they get too successful.

    We’re worried about data? I’m worried about Walmart labor practices, chemical regulation and vCOOL legislation _as well_. It’s time to write your representative a *handwritten letter* (apparently they have a system where a email=1 voter, but a handwritten letter=100 voters) telling them you want to see an end to practices you despise.

    Europe has laws protecting its people because they not only write and vote, they march and strike. We roll over and let business take whatever they want from us as long as we get to keep our ipod.

    I think we must petition everyone; as consumers by refusing to patronize businesses that act contrary to our beliefs, and as voters not by whining about elections but participating… not only by voting but by helping shape platforms and policy.

    And then we must follow up with action in a more traditionally capitalistic way. Whole Foods was founded because somebody out there said “maybe folks don’t want to eat genetically-altered pesticide-drenched food” and they didn’t wait for government to legislate to label where the food comes from. And they are doing very well (too well, now they are public and fighting a lot of the moral battles Google now is, and not always winning.)

    If you, Doc Searles, and your fine compatriots linked to at the beginning of this story pointed your readership at an alternative service that was behaving in a moral fashion maybe the power of the dollar would do what petitions so far cannot.

    If there isn’t one, isn’t it time for some hopeful entrapreneur to grab the opportunity?

  15. Facebook Beacon: A Cautionary Tale About New Media Monopolies - Publishing 2.0’s avatar

    […] people like Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and others are trying to bust Facebook’s non-monopoly by advocating for social networking […]

  16. Report: Facebook’s Stealthy Advertising System Even More Egregiously Intrusive : Fairbanks Fletcher Law’s avatar

    […] have been busy expressing their views on the subject as well. Channeling Jim Morrison, Doc Searls posted his thoughts last week on the failure of traditional rules on the new media user/content generator. […]

  17. Slamlander’s avatar

    The problem here, Christina, is that the only proven viable business model is the advertising and market data one, other than online shopping karts (Zen), gambling, and porn. People simply will not pay for a subscription to something like LiveJournal (especially with the current row over neo-puritan based censorship flagging). Yes, they’ve proven a definite need for WEB 2.0 social networking sites but, as yet, there is no money in them. Gathering marketing data is only the first attempt to monetize the WEB 2.0 concept.

  18. Dr.Mani’s Crystal Ball - Predictions for 2008 — Money.Power.Wisdom’s avatar

    […] Open social identity. Someone will discover the online, digital, globally relevant equivalent of the Social Security number. But will everyone adopt it? […]

  19. Joel York’s avatar

    The problem with Facebook is VERY simple.
    You get what you pay for.
    If you want a social network to respect your data
    and your privacy…then pay a subscription.

    The sad fact of the matter is that if you use Facebook,
    you should recognize that you just SOLD your data and your privacy.
    you do NOT own it, and you shouldn’t complain about it.

    We have seen the enemy…and it is us.

  20. Open Social Web Now: #5 at Like It Matters’s avatar

    […] Doc is right that incumbents won’t be the leaders when it comes to great data portability practices. […]

  21. iyeronic » Blog Archive » Facebook thinks I’m gay’s avatar

    […] It is an interesting problem, anyway. In this case, it is harmless, but the fact I have no control and no way of saying “No thanks” is pretty annoying. It might be time to write our own rules. […]

  22. BillinDetroit’s avatar

    Doc … my logging data now shows a link to my blog. Thank you.

    To ‘unpack’ my earlier comment:
    Comment posters who leave behind thoughtful comments increase the value of a blog, however incrementally, in exchange for a similar incremental increase in the value of their own. If the nofollow attribute is set on our comments, we are adding to the common weal without adding to our own. In this respect, I am very much in accord with Ayn Rand that it is wrong to ask an individual to contribute to the value of another (or collective other) without offering a corresponding increase to that individual.

    Your observations about Facebook, YouTube, etc. are spot-on. I honestly think that, while the consumer / individual may win some of the battles, the war for our data is already lost. Too many people, like one poster above, are willing for the merchants to anticipate our needs and wants (all the while defining them, as well, by controlling our options) for the needed restrictions to be enacted or, if enacted, enforced. Two points for George Orwell.

    Because commercial interests can tap into a dazzling array of public and private data (vehicle registration, drivers license, loan, revolving credit and mortgage records, military and scholastic data, health insurance claims, phone records including GPS traces, ad nauseum) there is little real hope for any defensive scheme. Even seeding with false data is of limited effectiveness because it sticks out against the trend of ‘good’ data.

    The American people have already handed over the keys to their persona and can’t revoke them. Other countries are too close behind us to point any fingers. When the whole bus leaves the road, the whole bus crashes.

    It is growing increasingly difficult to avoid being forced to contribute. That limits the value of data atrophy. We are constantly compelled to refresh the data ourselves. We renew our drivers licenses and our fishing licenses. We register the end of our marriage licenses, the birth of our children and the deaths of our parents. We sign up for courses and have to formally abandon them or take a failing grade as penalty if we cannot see them all the way through. At every junction, the bony finger of reasonableness is pointed … but the composite of the data available to analyze us is mind-boggling. Individually, the data collection IS reasonable. But the disparate wisps of data are joined and become actionable information. In the aggregation, the reasonableness is lost.

    I dealt with one facet of this -corporate phishing- on my own blog tonight, just before coming here. Cash is being phased out and implantable RFIDs are moving forward, albeit cautiously at the moment. Some are in the currency, your garments, your passport. Your data is being mugged.

    And here is the care those records receive: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7107975.stm

    So, what is the answer to the needlessly invasive questions posed by corporations and the promiscuity with which government exchanges data with them?

    Ayn Rand to the rescue: Atlas Shrugged … and so should we.

  23. Answers Blog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-11-26’s avatar

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  24. Who owns your data? Who should own it? · No Straight Lines’s avatar

    […] reasons: I sure am with Doc Searls and Dave Winer on this one. I want control of my own data. And I want to write my own rules on how others may and may not use my […]

  25. The End of Social Networks’s avatar

    […] I just read Dave Winer advocating that we need to retain control over our feeds, and Doc Searls says that we should be making our own […]

  26. Marc’s Voice » Blog Archive » Best posts of 2nd half of 2007’s avatar

    […]  Replying to Doc Searls: “Time to write our own rules” […]

  27. Captain Joe’s avatar

    Doc, Thanks for the Whitman, after a long month mostly at dock, I needed a little pick me up. the poem was just what I needed.

  28. Customer Relationship Management’s avatar

    Stop petitioning google and facebook to solve our problems ! lol that is such a true statment.

  29. walacore’s avatar

    I think that as people become more disenchanted with being ignored, especially over the next election cycle… we’ll see more people taking the risk, investing time to create the world they want, and developing pieces of what you describe.

  30. Sell My Business’s avatar

    I’ll agree with you that websites should fully work within our own privacy and personal information guidelines.

    For sites like Facebook that have already invested into sectioning off options for how data is shared, this wouldn’t be too difficult. However, for more traditional websites, it would be challenging to implement.

    I will say that like your example, it would be neat to get an XML copy and be able to submit it to other sites like Amazon to suggest books. Lol.

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