Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dragging me, kicking and screaming

I mentioned the DataSharing Summit last week, and there's been lots of discussion about it lately (such as on Facebook) and there's one aspect which troubles me.

A large group of people seem hellbent on finding ways for someone to move all of their personal data from one social networking site to another. Still others wish there was a way to store the data in one place (or link it from multiple places) and use it on all of the social networking sites you hang out on. Not really a bad idea, until we look into what's meant by "personal data."

It seems that peoples' contact lists are considered personal data, but also the relationship between the person and those on the contact list. Few are questioning the ethics of moving my data (or my relationship) as part of your contacts. But a relationship has at least two parties - shouldn't all parties have to agree to publish the details of that relationship?

While I may not object to you porting my information from Facebook (where I'm listed as your "friend") to LinkedIn (your "associate"), I may have a strong objection to being dragged over to MyKinkyPlace.com where I'd be listed as your "playmate"!

It isn't that both parties to a relationship need to agree on the term for that relationship - after all, I may see you as a "friend" while you see me as an "acquaintance," or you may see me as the "love of your life" while I see you as a "stalker." Unfortunately, most social networking sites don't allow for this sort of "split view" of the relationship - they actually expect both parties to agree upon the degree of intimacy involved. While this mostly serves to lower the precision of the meaning of the relationship terms, it also means that anyone viewing your contacts will think the relationship is as you describe it. That can do a lot of damage to my reputation, another facet of my identity which I would prefer to enhance.

It will be interesting to see what proposals come out of the summit.

I believe that Orkut does allow for this split view of a relationship, too bad the design is poor and no one uses it.
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