I’m on my way back from the conference „Think before you post!“ that was held in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Feb 9th as part of the „Safer Internet Day 2010„. As part of the conference, the evaluation of the „Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU“ was presented and discussed with SNS providers. Back in November and December 2009, I took part in the evaluation as one of the local experts who tested their domestic social networking site – in my case the three german „VZ platforms“ schülerVZ, studiVZ and meinVZ.
Background for this evaluation: In February 2009, a number of Social Network Site providers agreed on the „Safer Social Networking Principles“, a set of seven goals and subsequent measures to protect their users‘ privacy, safety and personal information. Providers had to outline how they comply to these principles – be it via their terms of service, codes of conduct, software design, or other ways. These self-declarations were then compared to the actual platform – the interface, the user experience, the information and guidance given, etc. – along a specific set of criteria formulated by the lead experts Elisabeth Staksrud (Oslo) and Bojana Lobe (Ljubljana).
The results are now published in two reports, one summarizing the whole findings, the other documenting the separate platform reports. There is also a german version of my summary report on the VZ networks1, and a press relase with other related material.
In addition and to frame this public presentation, a couple of panel discussions were held throughout the day – mostly with six or seven participants from different providers and organizations. In one, representatives of some of the tested networks (Facebook, mySpace, Netlog) welcomed the evaluation but also suggested that they should be involved more directly in the testing (e.g. by designing the questionnaire / code sheet). Additionally, four young adults stayed on all the panels and were frequently included by moderator Sonia Livingstone into the discussion. This led to some interesting conversations, for example when one of the, Daniel, confronted the Facebook representative Richard Allan2 with the case of the „privacy setting change“ [link ??]: How come that the privacy settings had changed without proper notice to the users? Allan responded that the setting had not changed, but actually the privacy framework was tweaked; users were then given a notice and could choose which settings they wanted. Daniel, however, insisted and made a great point: For ordinary users there was no way to guess from the notice how the change in the privacy framework and their selection would influence their visibility.
In another conversation between the four of them, the young adults agreed that tagging other users in uploaded pictures should be regulated more strictly: Ideally, a person tagged on a picture should get a notice and the opportunity to disapprove (or approve) BEFORE the picture would be published. This change in design would surely affect social routines – only one of twenty persons tagged in a party pic from last night could ‚block‘ the whole photo from being published, thus spoiling the fun for the others – but in respect to privacy it would definitely be a better solution.
All in all it was interesting day worth the hours travelling to and from Strasbourg. Some other noteworthy stuff:
- I didn’t notice before, but the conference was on the same day that the parliament voted on the new EU commission. So not only did Viviane Reding give her last speech as Commissioner for Information Society and Media, when she welcomed us in the morning, but we also had the chance to be in the parliament after lunch, right in time for the statements of the fraction presidents and the actual vote. Great timing!
- Part of the Safer Internet Day 2010 was the opening of an exhibition on online identity, which included pictures from the „Alter Ego“ project by Robbie Cooper (BBC-Article on his work). It was great to meet Robbie in person, since I use some of his pictures for quite some time now in some of my presentations. I promised him to buy his book now… ;-)