Facebook Proposed Principles are pandering

Facebook asks its users to discuss its Proposed Principles. I’m unhappy with the way those are expressed, and here is a more complete reply then the one I left on the over-crowded comments thread.

Data cannot be owned: it has an author, and this author has inalienable rights; re-affirming that is useless without specifying who is the author of each aspect of a collective work; an author can license of cede his rights to copy his work — but once again, those century old principles demand a consensus on what to do in case of a disagreement, or when one author\’s opinion cannot be found.

For instance, Facebook hasn’t clearly stated in there the most frequent source of problem: who owns a photo, and who owns the information that Dave is on the photo? The owner of the camera, the person who took the picture (indistinguishable, I agree) or the person on the photos, or the person tagging it? Because, as far as I can tell, by “owner”, Facebook doesn’t mean the person being photographed — and that isn’t made clear at all by their wording. Actually, article 9.3 of the Statement of Rights seems to demand an explicit authorisation — but nothing about what to do when the two disagree; a blog post has, however, and it didn’t match those drapes.

The real issue is actually that last one: the author’s opinion. “Works” produced on Facebook are usually crumbles, impossible to rate outside of the peer-produced context and in general uninteresting and utterly exhausting to sort; more then the big principles, the implementation of tools to sort them, from “phatic and empty praises of yet another uninteresting photo” to “cryptic acronym, meant as an inside joke”. With that, one can expect to have a little more feed-back from disgruntled users, and a easier management of the process surrounding the departure of a user. Without it, those are not only worthless, they are unmanageable, tedious, scary in their size and diversity. Far more then actual consequences of the misuse of those sets, users fear the sets themselves, and have less ideas about what those can look like then whether they can be actually be misused (Hint: No one is going to refuse you an interview because you wrote “You Go Grrl!” below the photos of your high school best friend a few years back.)

Any ‘reappropriation’ is toothless without control, and there is no effective control if the options are: keep them all, erase them all, remove those one by one (but try to find them first). I do not want rights to erase those over effective, intelligent control and information, no more then I want the right to vote over proper information about the candidates and the ability to publicly question them on matters that I care, and keep them on the record. What was obvious to the wall-paper readers of the French and the American Revolution is closed and controlled by Facebook. I want to be able to go to the contents at any day of my NewsFeed faster then anyone can access old photo with my comments on them; nowadays, I’ll have to click until I collapse to reach anything six month old and I can’t even search my recommended links.

At no point Facebook seems to encourage the export of all the contribution of one user (at least, those that make sense decontextualised, and have been produced by a unique user: status, posted notes & shared links, photos as uploaded, list of applications installed) to another similar service that he himself chooses to use, with the information that he encoded in Facebook. This would appear to be the minimum, basic feature for an “Open Web”, and has no legal implications, no other consequence then allowing competitive innovation to foster Facebook into better products.

In the second article, Facebook encourages any communication between consenting parties: “any” raises many now common issues; in the current order of inappropriateness: discrimination, hate-speech (incl. racism & anti-semitism), encouragement to violent or terrorist action, methods and tools for such action, pornographic content involving minor; one might want to add blasphemy and sedition, for good measure. Facebook cannot state it protects this under any circumstances because some of this would be illegal in all countries where the service operates. It might want to re-affirm under what principles it would give way to an investigation, and what measures are acceptable to be taken, but protecting anything, facing any suspicion, is not what a majority of the population would agree. It is arguable that —for the worst aspects— if a judge has enough evidence to investigate, this should be enough to prosecute, and the proof of communication doesn’t had much to the file; I personally wouldn’t go that far. But the best part is in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities article 3 & 5, that basically can be read to exclude all forms of communications.

In the first and third one, Facebook claims for the right to connect, and the free flow; as far as I can tell, most of the issues raised where not “How can I click on that obvious button [You are too annoying to be my friend anymore]?” but: Your photo or your writings are offending me. Truth be told, many actually wonder about whether their unfriending should be visible, and we agree that it should not.

The fourth article legitimize the presence of commercial entity: I agree, but I know people who vehemently disagree with that, who didn’t object to that wording, because it apparently wasn’t clear enough. Without controversial examples of what each article implies, this set of value cannot be criticized. What is really surprising is that I can’t read this: “Every Person (. . .) should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service,” without noticing that the “within” is ambiguous; should the Person too be within? Does someone has to be a member for his interest to be respected? Do you have to subscribe to control the photos associated to you?

“[. . .] programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them.”

No: I want programmatic interfaces to control the information related to me — that right doesn’t allow me to manage the NewsFeed as I deem fit, and that is far more important problem to be opened then any other.

Most of the articles that I don’t mention are corny, toothless and pandering in the sense that they acknowledge previous mistakes, and state the obvious: that Facebook blew it, and the users had to right to be upset — but they don’t correspond to an actual decision.

Finally, the last article completely neglects that to be available, you need to offer a service that is acceptable abroad: ethnocentric much? Well, does that mean no breast-feeding, no ‘sedition’, no blasphemy? What happens if A is an American with strong opinions about his civil liberty, B is his friend, living abroad, and C is a friend of B, that would not stand one of the above: should A’s photos showing her breasts (resp. a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, or the tank on June 10th on Tian An Men) be invisible to C? Once again, contradictions with the Rights and Responsibilities, 4.3 specifically, is amusing.

I’m happy to have principles, I’d prefer to have clear, explicit, sour consequence of what each of those rights imply; I want ‘morally unlucky’ situations. “Vote for everyone” includes murderers, mentally ill people and fascists: that’s where the debate should be, not in Rosyfluffyland.

PS: I guess a post on the contradictions and ‘ellipses’ in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is coming, too.


About Bertil

I'm a PhD student in Digital Economics, and I love viennoiserie. Je suis un doctorant en économie (numérique) et j'aime la viennoiserie.
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