I read Chris Brogan’s Have the Data Wars Begun blog entry where he ends with these questions:
I’m not sure my take on this, but wanted to bring it to you for consideration. On one side, I want to be able to move my personal data from site to site, because if I spent the effort building it in there, I want to get it back out. On another side, is the friending process of Facebook THEIR data or is it mine? My friends, yes, but is the link and the semantic data built between us something that Facebook owns?
What’s your take?
Hypothetically, let’s say I own a late model Lamborghini. Burt Roscoe (A hypothetical person) owns a late model Rolls Royce and we both belong to a luxury car club. In this club’s charter they provide a storage facility and services like having your car ready for you when you call ahead, including fueled up, detailed, and they’ll even make sure it gets to the dealership for its scheduled maintenance and they host rallies, dinners and all manner of get-togethers. You’ll have to leave a key at the storage facility in order to take advantage of the services, but that’s part of the membership agreement you sign.
Burt is a respected and well known car guy and supporter of the club, so of course, I’m going to try to get to know him out of the 50 members and I get to the point where we know each other’s face and at one point Burt let me drive his Rolls and I let him drive my Lamborghini and we benefit from knowing each other, undoubtedly me more than him, but still we both benefit in one way or another. Great, everything is going along fine and then the members find out that the club has been renting out our cars to non-members without permission and selling the membership roster to all sorts of advertisers. Well a big battle erupts and is still going on, but it’s now a month later and it’s died down quite a bit.
Burt decides he would like to drive my Lamborghini again and since he’s so well known and respected, he basically has run of the club. He grabs the key to my Lamborghini and starts to drive away. Well one of the valets was on his way to get my car because I called and sees my car leaving. Being smarter than a rock, the valet closes the garage door and won’t open it and goes to get the club manager, who immediately kicks Burt out of the club. Burt grumbles as he leaves and then returns with 18 other members of the club so ensure he can get back into the club. He gets back into the club with the group and explains that he was only going to use the Lamborghini for personal use and that he was also going to store it at another Luxury car club where the eighteen members in his group now are also members there as well and how this is going to be a great thing for all of the members of the club.
The club house breaks out in a battle of cheap theatrics and semantics, finger-pointing and the third grade lemming defense of ‘The club already did it!’ when finally one of the other, very well-respected club members shouts over the mess.
“Who owns the Lamborghini?”
A hush falls over the crowd and the member asks the question again and elaborates.
“Who owns the Lamborghini? The Club or Burt?”
And that’s the problem. It’s the right question, but the wrong set of answers. Neither Facebook nor anyone I’ve designated as a friend would own my name, my e-mail address or my birth date, I own them, plain and simple. My data resides in a Relational Database on Facebook’s servers. And that is the best descriptor of what Facebook and any single ‘friend ‘ on Facebook owns, a relationship. And both Facebook and any individual Facebook member are responsible for using and not abusing that data through a Terms of Service Agreement that applies to both Facebook and the individual users through their acceptance of the terms. It’s called Stewardship.