22 February 2009

Another Facebook row...

The Facebook row this week has been a very well documented one. Facebook changed its terms of service earlier this week. The new terms in essence gave to Facebook wider control over its use, storage and dissemination of the personal data of its users. The change was met with a general outcry from its users (who formed a group on Facebook called "People against the new terms of service" which had over 90, 000 members within a day) and privacy watchdogs (e.g. Electronic Private Information Centre). Facebook initially resisted the complaints but eventually reverted to its old terms of service, whislt considering the nature of the complaints raised.

The danger with online communities being regulated by such contractual arrangements as terms of service is that such system of governance does not have the usual checks (e.g. fairness, proportionality, transparency etc) which are present in centralised governance system (e.g. law). However, most online communities are regulated by such contracts to which the user has to agree before being able to become a member of the community. In most cases, the user agrees to these terms without being aware of the nature of the terms they are agreeing to. The rapid upsurge in such systems of decentralised governance in online communities raises significant issues of legality (e.g. unfair terms, lack of notice etc) and privacy (e.g. user agreeing terms authorising data processors to process their personal data in any way they see fit). It is vital for the survival of online communities for such concerns to be addressed by a system of governance which follows the principle of the rule of law and due process.

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