Your Profile is Mine, All Mine!

The latest move by Facebook chimes with my dilemma over SCL profiles. Who has legal control over the data?

As everyone reading a blog on the SCL Web site will know, Facebook announced today (27 February) that it was handing over control of the site to users. If you have been in meetings all week, the story is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7913289.stm. Whatever that grand plan means in practice, the announcement also includes a full acknowledgment that users own their data ‘People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service’.

This development occurred just as I was beginning to worry about SCL profiles. One of the new elements of the revamped site is the ability for members to update their profile directly. The obvious thing is to change your password and ensure that your firm and status is correct, but we have also been encouraging members to add a few biographical details and even a suitable photograph.

But my assumption is that whatever you post to that profile is mine to play around with if I choose. In short, I think your profile is mine. Is that really so legally?

I don’t have a moment’s hesitation in changing the wording submitted with articles for the magazine if I think that the brief biographical details we encourage have lapsed into advertorial or prolixity. If an author wants to say that he is ‘the leading expert on data protection in the Western world’ (and I have had offerings not far short of that), that’s not going in the magazine as we all know that the leading expert is in fact an SCL Fellow. Is there a difference where online profiles are concerned? I think that an online profile that puffs and praises to excess can be edited down by me. But you may well ask ‘who am I to judge?’ And what about a profile that includes a disparaging comparison with another IT lawyer? Surely I would be bound to alter that (no matter how true)?

There are a number of practical issues to consider. The most obvious is that it is one thing editing author details as they come in for an issue of the magazine or for publication on the Web site – they come in, effectively, one at a time in limited numbers – but it is quite another to cope with online profiles. Hundreds of SCL profiles should have been completed in the short period since the new site went live. And I only see most profiles if I seek them out. So there are real practical limits on the checks that I can carry out.

But forget the practicalities, what I would like input on is the legal ownership of the data in profiles. Our terms and conditions, so far as (possibly) relevant say: ‘The views expressed in the articles, reports, reviews and other contributions to this site including the magazine Computers and Law are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the officers, Council or any member of the Society for Computers and Law’ and ‘Your personal information is only collected by this site when voluntarily submitted by you. We may use the information we collect to provide you with news and other information which you may have requested.’

Frankly, I am not sure any of this hits the mark.

My strong feeling as Editor is that it is the job of an editor to monitor what is published and to improve it, by his or her own standards, when possible. Of course the volume of online publication makes this very hard, as the law acknowledges with exemptions from liability in a number of instances. But that doesn’t shift my stance. I believe that I can, and in many instances am obliged to, edit content on the site at my discretion.

Let me know what you think. I am off to edit some profiles.

Published: 2009-02-27T19:13:47

    1 comments

    • Hi Laurence, the new website is great. There's an interesting debate on just this topic going on at the moment on Jonathan Zittrain's blog, see here: http://futureoftheinternet.org/facebooks-privacy-storm Lawrence Lessig made an argument at his SCL lecture last year that personal identity should be governed by the rules of intellectual property (i.e. we licence our identity to third parties) rather than under the current data protection regime (third parties are free to use our identities subject to regulatory limits). I've yet to see that argument elaborated on - I'd be interested in reading more about how it would work - my hunch is however that I do not see how it would be commercially feasible. As for my profile - I've yet to make any grand claims, so feel free to edit at will. : - )
      Brian Meenagh, 20:13:01 05/03/2009
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