When snooping goes too far

When I’m writing up posts on people-finding sources, I usually suspend judgement on whether or not entries on social network sites are fair game for journalistic intrusion.

I sit on the fence over the privacy vs public interest debate (which you can find raging all over the web – here, here, here etc.), and leave these matters to the discretion and conscience of people using the sites.

I accept that this makes me liable to accusations of moral relativism, and for the most part that’s something I can live with.

But I’ve just read a rather alarming post about one people-finding site in particular which has been cheesing people off and which has prompted me to raise my head above the parapet on this thorny issue.

There’s two quotes in particular from this blog post which I want to flag up; one giving a lowdown on the site, the other detailing a couple of ethical issues surrounding it:

Spock is a social networking / people search site which allows anyone to edit anybody else’s information. If you find that you’ve been added to the site, you can claim your profile and change your information. However, there is no guarantee that you’ll notice you’ve been added to the site.

Spock’s Help page explains how users can flag content as inappropriate. However, if you don’t know you’ve been added to their database, there is no way to control the information. Secondly, claiming your profile isn’t necessarily instantaneous. If you don’t have an email address or social networking account, you have to request access to your profile via the site’s “quality assurance team.” That’s the problem with allowing a social network to act as a wiki: anyone can edit it, so they need a quality assurance team in place to protect you from claiming to be you when you are actually someone else.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on the privacy vs public interest debate, allowing third party individuals to create profiles about us where we have no instant right-to-reply is highly dangerous – a matter not helped by the hands-off (and seemingly all-encompassing) disclaimer in their terms of service*.

Just as bad is the notion that a third party source can obtain and re-publish (or re-represent) content you’ve submitted to a SN site in good faith, and is unable to then remove this content immediately once you have made an inquiry.

A quick scan down some of the recent feedback they’ve been getting, as well as earlier feedback tagged ‘privacy‘, would suggest social networkers are already feeling pretty militant on this matter.

Wouldn’t it be possible to employ a system of authentication whereby material about individuals is only re-presented in the site upon emailed confirmation from the individual in question?

These are issues the providers should think long and hard about before going beyond the Beta stage with this service.


*Speaking of Spock’s terms of service, how about this for a rather worrying step toward the world of private information gone drastically public (and completely beyond your control)…

You hereby grant Spock (and each of its registered users, as limited by the “Personal Use Only” section, above) the royalty-free, unlimited, perpetual, non-exclusive, irrevocable right and license to make, use, copy, distribute, display, publish, perform, modify, or translate any such Postings for any purpose and in any medium worldwide (including but not limited to incorporating the Postings into Spock databases or any other Spock property, product, or service) and to sublicense the foregoing rights, and this sublicense right, to others.

Compare with the terms in other social networks, and this looks incredibly one-sided…

Facebook terms on user-content ownership:

Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

Myspace terms on user-content ownership:

MySpace.com does not claim any ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you post to the MySpace Services. After posting your Content to the MySpace Services, you continue to retain all ownership rights in such Content, and you continue to have the right to use your Content in any way you choose. By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the MySpace Services, you hereby grant to MySpace.com a limited license to use, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on and through the MySpace Services.

Does this point to a fundamental problem with Spock, and any other people-finding source based upon the wiki/social network hybrid model?

Is there not an impasse between a wiki (in which all contributors fore-go ownership over the content they contribute) and a social network (where ownership of content is a key aspect toward participation) – and therefore combining the two is like mixing oil and water?


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