Web 2.0 & IP

Posted by patrick lichty | Fri Jun 8th 2007 6:46 p.m.

Much of this post is arecontextualization of a post I did on the IDC
listserv about the fact that we frequently do NOT read Terms of Service
(TOS) and End User License Agreements (EULAs) when using social media, or
technology in general. If one looks closely, many popular sites claim
ownership of all information put on them (myspace does this, or very close),
and Second Life takes no liability for the reliability of its software,
service, possible monitoring of user activity, or the veracity of its core
currency (read the ToS).

Given this, I am somehow surprised that people are in any way appalled
regarding the transparency of their information. Or, for that matter, the
security of it.
Consider the record in the era of the hypercapitalist social. Blogs, social
nets, community hosts are all goldmines for advertisers (the chief economy
[besides porn and sex toys;) ] on the Net. Secondly, the reliance on ad
capital as hosting revenues went down created a culture in which the
maintenance of any record is solely dependant on its economic viability.
From this, the user innocently clicks "OK" on the TOS/EULA without ever
looking at it. And, if a corporate buyout occurs, the TOS/EULA can change to
represent the policy of the host corporation. Why should anyone be
surprised that their blogs, data, demographic info could be up for bid? In
the information economy where sites like MySpace explicitly state that any
information used on site can be used by NewsCorp for whatever purpose, is it
a surprise when acquisitions take place and the data, is, in fact, used?
I wonder whether net culture might be entering a moment of existential
hysteresis in which it is straining to keep believing the utopian 90's
paradigm of the "free Internet" (use whatever interpretation you like)
shifting from Whole Earth to SnowCrash. I remember when a young woman came
up to me in '97 at the Cleveland Contemporary, angered that I had criticised
the Net as a potential site for more corporate abuse, stating that the Net
was the "last grass-roots place where people can really make a difference",
mirroring the MCI telecomm ad fromt he Super Bowl with the same message.
Secondly, I once knew a data archivist who was consulting to AT&T in the
90's who was in negotiations with them to try to allow migration of "all"
records, including "gray" ones, and trying to institute limits on mining and
remarketing user data. I don't know abotu the latter, but I do know that
because of "financial" issues, a lot of legacy information was lost.
From this, and from other research, our data, all of it, is subject to sale
or termination, and to changing user agreements without notice. Basically,
if a user agrees to the company's terms, there isn't much one can do.
Compounding this, the changes to Terms of Service (TOS) are wholly up to the
company, and there is little recourse afforded the user.
A faint analogy reflects the concerns people have had with Second Life. On
one hand, user profiles (a pay function) were recently deleted without
recourse, eliminating hundreds of thousands of user fees in an instant. In
addition, the TOS/EULA states that Linden Labs makes no apologies for bugs,
downtime, eavesdropping, or experience.
But then, when prospective users ask me whether I should let the students
use tech like Second Life, when there is all this "sex and violence", I
counter that they should not use the Internet for the same reason. My
argument is that what we are seeing is the flowering of Web 2.0. It was
sold as an empowering technology, but what many of us know full well is that
all that user data is intellectual property, and a valuable resource for the
conglomerates. In addition, many are just now realizing that the abuses of
power regarding IP permissions may not be restricted to logos and Metallica
songs.
And, in regards to data persistence/security, it will exist as long as it
benefits the institution's enlightened self interest ( i.e. economic
viability of the archive, if not for profitability, for community goodwill/
PR).
My viewpoint may be a little extreme, but probably not by much. We want to
believe in the Net, we want to believe that no one is mining our Facebook
demographic stats, but I feel this is a little idealistic. Granted, perhaps
my Gibsonian Zaibatsu/Sprawl scenario may be exaggerated, but with
consolidation, perhaps not.
  • Erika Lincoln | Sat Jun 9th 2007 11:04 a.m.
    Patrick,
    These are good points that are not addressed or discussed at large. I myself having been sucked into the youtube vortex, then reading the TOS after posting my material, then deleting my profile because I did not agree with the TOS.

    What is interesting is that the discussions around these types of sites revolve around copyright infringement, where users are posting content that they do not have permission to post. And considering that the user (I use YouTube as an example) by agreeing to the terms of service has granted "the tube" a license to use any content posted for any way they see fit for an indeterminate time frame, the user who posts material that they do not have the rights to cannot enter into the agreement.????

    So if the goal of these sites is to automatically have the right to use all content posted why do they need it? How is the data commodified or measured? is this some new economics?
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