Friday, January 11, 2008

Whose data is it?

The Burton Group's Bob Blakley has a great post ("Antisocial Networking") today about the Facebook-Scoble story. The essence (or, at least one essence) of Bob's note is that relationships are a different order of data from attributes. As he says:

"Even the fact of your relationship with Scoble is not Scoble’s property, it is common property, like the kids in a joint custody arrangement. Both you and Scoble are obligated by the laws of relation here and here to treat the fact that you have a relationship, and also the details of the relationship, according to certain understandings and social conventions. If you don’t believe this, meditate on whether you think it would be OK for,, and linkedin to share friend lists. The information Scoble tried to take out of Facebook is NOT Scoble’s property; it is relationship information. Scoble is not free to do whatever he pleases with relationship information; if he violates social understandings and conventions by disclosing the existence of or certain information about his relationship with you in the wrong context, he may embarrass or endanger you, and he will certainly endanger the relationship."

And that's what it's all about.

Of course, not all relationships are reciprocal. I have a relationship with Edith Piaf - I'm a great admirer of her singing. The relationship isn't reciprocated, of course, and not only because she's been dead for many years. But I also have a relationship with the very lively Tom Hanks, of whom I'm a fan. I don't think Tom is one of my regular readers, though, so I doubt the "fan" relationship is reciprocated.

Human relationships may need to be classified similarly to mathematical transitivity. There are:
  • reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is friends with b and b is friends with a);
  • non-reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is a fan of b but b is not a fan of a);
  • relatively reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is father to b, b is daughter to a); and
  • asymmetric relationships (e.g., a loves b, b can't stand a).
Some of these relationships will need joint permission for publication, some won't. Some will allow unidirectional publication, some will require it. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to happen soon, but a relationship calculus is going to be necessary for this to work at all.

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Also made more difficult as "friend" and similar inter-personal relationship concepts are the only lightweight 'hammer' that social networking sites consistently provide. Groups and associations are often too implemented too heavyweight in some sites, so people fall back to re-using friend. In the case you present, the 'relationship' is not necessarily with a person, but with a 'social object'. If you and Joe Bloggs are both fans of Edith Piaf, you might both be in her fan club. If you also both live in Sunnytown, then you'd might like to have a 'Sunnytown friends of Edith Piaf'. But it's easier to have a 'friend' connection than to set up the work to make such a group. See also on 'social objects'
I don't buy any of that. The data on Scoble's friends has been posted on Facebook for the purposes of ensuring that their friends (like Scoble) has access to them. Facebook has 2 choices:

1. Make it difficult for Scoble to get access to that data and risk becoming unused (since that's the main reason to use it)

2. Assist with this data transfer and more, stay on top the popularity curve, and make money on the ad revenue.

If Facebook isn't going to let my friends have easy access to my information, I might as well just tell my friends to meet me on LinkedIn, Plaxo, or some other site that will let them to my info with ease.

As for the moral, legal, ethical ramifications of who really owns that data? I'd say there is much precident that name and address info is in the public domain.
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