18 September 2007

Social media is a conspiracy to destroy the world economy

I learned this, of course, by listening to last week's For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Neville Hobson quotes studies suggesting that Facebook's impact on worker productivity is draining an amount of money from the global economy roughly equivalent to the GNP of Kerblakistan. (I'm not a fan of Facebook lately, but this is rubbish.)
I've listened to their podcast for a few weeks now, usually while walking my dogs in the morning. I got hooked for good after they interviewed Peter Brill of Radio Salaam Shalom.

Shel Holtz asked his listeners to "tell three friends" about the podcast, so I thought I'd plug them in a post.

Their podcast is a little heavy on Facebook updates (yes, it's changed everything utterly and forever, I know) but I've learned about some valuable nuggets there - most notably the "Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web." It was compiled by some of the biggest names in social media, and I view it as a more grassroots-style assertion of the ethics of the web we've heard so much about this month.

The mere notion that users feel compelled to assert "ownership of their own personal information" is profoundly disturbing, but the truth is this information has now been commoditized to the point where it truly is a packaged product available to anyone for sale or rent, with less structure or regulation than, say, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Apathetic or unsuspecting users have essentially surrendered this information in enough public places now where the gathering of this information is akin to ocean salvage. It's unappealing, but basically legal. I sort of get the feeling that we're trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Personally, I think the cause was lost when people didn't react strongly enough to the "opt-out" tactics of the direct marketing industry. Bottom line: we still react more viscerally to spammers than we do identity thieves.

Still, it's important to tell social network utility executives that they need to be more vigilant in understanding the basic privacy and security rights of their users, and to make sure honest thought is put into justifying why they really need certain information. In my opinion, they'd help themselves by offering information to users about what's really being done with their personal information and how they can use social networking tools safely and effectively.

Of course, enforcement of this new "bill of rights" is essentially impossible. The worst penalty right now is the scorn of a small yet reasonably influential group of smart early-adopters.

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