[Air-l] social network migration

'Gail Taylor gdtaylor at uiuc.edu
Wed Jul 11 08:04:20 PDT 2007

Michael Zimmer wrote: (1) I was imprecise when I said "Google is...working on a social networking platform...".  The work is being done by grad students at CMU (thus the URL I linked to), and Google is sponsoring the work. Based on the CMU site, they seem to be taking some kind of "direction" from our friends in Mountain View ("Directed to help improve the online community orkut..."), but the research & demo is the fruit of CMU's labor, not Google's. If anyone know what the nature of these kinds of relationships are (contractual?), I'd love to learn more."

Thanks for the detailed response to questions that were raised in an earlier message. I'm also not an attorney but have worked on programs where legal departments provided direct oversight and gave the go ahead for actions that were being initiated. I spent a number of years formulating and implementing partnering agreements between government agencies, universities, and businesses in the private and public sector. These agreements are business deals with terms and conditions that are legally binding in courts of law. My guess is that CMU and Google have entered into an agreement that includes the exchange of money, goods, and other in-kind services. I didn't get a feel for who might have initiated the business relationship. It's also possible that other organizations are also involved in the partnering effort as vendors are often times part of the mix. These partnering agreements create opportunities to test products that are in various stages of development. 

Michael also wrote: "The notion of businesses entering into agreements with other businesses to share personal information about their users (and online practices) is nothing new. I recently bought some items from Babies R Us, and they required my phone number in order to process the transaction. I decided to give it to them, and suddenly I'm on the mailing list for a dozen various baby retailers (power of reverse look-up directories). Businesses have been selling customer lists and  purchasing habits long before Amazon or Google got into the game."

This calls attention to locus of control issues. In the case of Babies R Us, you made the decision to enter into the agreement to share personal information with the business. I'm assuming that your knowledge that businesses sell customer lists and purchase habits to others was taken into consideration at the time the agreement was invoked. As mentioned in a previous message, developers of the Google product are using language indicating users will have limited control over their actions. I see locus of control issues as being critical to this conversation.

Michael further wrote: "Unfortunately the norm is for the flow of personal information to be much more in the control of business interests than the individuals themselves. We have little choice in the matter that Choicepoint has aggregated all of our financial information, and once we sign up for   
our Facebook account we allow that business agreement to dictate how Facebook will handle our information as well."

Understandings of the exchange of electronic personal information are evolving among members of the legal community. I've participated in forums where members of the legal profession were present. Concerns are being raised about the manner in which businesses are capturing and stockpiling personal information. Actions of some business, such as those in the banking industry, are regulated by government agencies.These regulatory actions are designed to protect the interests of the business and members of the general public.  

Michael wrote: "Gail seems to suggest that Socialstream's aggregation of social network information from other services via "business agreements" among the parties constitutes a "major change in practice from the manner in which users are currently using Google services." Well, I suppose so, but maybe not in the way Gail is suggesting. As more and   more users migrate to "Planet Google" to fulfill their needs for information seeking, shopping, news, blogging, browsing, spreadsheets, e-mail, chat, and so on, we provide Google singular access to all that information in about our lives."

At the current time, Google pretty much abides by its policy to keep this information private and not share it with others. This is the practice that has the potential to change as others partner with Google. Personal information (data) could be housed on servers at these other online social networking service providers. These providers would have ownership rights of the information that is housed on their servers. Google would have user rights that would be spelled out in terms and conditions of agreements. At some point in the future, there is always the possibility that Google would acquire these businesses. Ownership of the data would transfer to Google. I've heard the word 'anti-trust' jokingly thrown around in conversations where the focus is on the way data is being captured and stockpiled by businesses through acquisitions and mergers. I see the jokes as being an indication of shifts in thinking that are taking place among members of the legal community in relation t!
 o !
protecting the interests and rights of consumers. 

It's been suggested that members of the academic and research communities should start paying closer attention to infrastructures that are enabling online interactions among members of the general public. I'm in support of this suggestion. As opposed to fearing what is currently happening, I see this as an opportunity to become more aware of business structures and processes that have the potential to exploit people in online environments in public environments where assumptions are made that locus of control resides with the user.

Gail D. Taylor, M.Ed.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Human Resource Education Ph.D. Student
Educational Psychology Teaching Assistant
Library & Information Science Research Assistant

"Technology enables man to gain control
over everything except technology." -- 

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