Today I had the nifty opportunity to co-teach a Business Law class alongside BLaw faculty and intellectual property attorney Dan Cahoy (aka that guy I live with.)
We structured the class as presenting the promise and peril of the social web, privacy, and sharing. Dan talked about the Digital Millenium Copyright Act as an example of legislation that encourages current and future development of online services and resources. He noted that on the Social Web, privacy protections are not optimized for the user, but instead are dictated by contracts (optimized for the provider) that users by and large don't read. Current privacy laws tend to be based in old technology, including the Wiretap Act, the Video Privacy Protection Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. We agreed that future privacy protections will likely be driven in part by social web users. (and Facebook Beacon is a great and current example of this happening.)
I talked about my interest in Facebook as a librarian, the notion of the social web as a land of rich opportunity for information sharing and creation, and current Facebook marketing practices.
We looked at the concept of Facebook as a repository for historical information. While most students are not thinking of Facebook as an information archive, I guarantee you that in the years to come, they will. To illustrate this point, I showed them an old photo of the improv comedy troupe (see above) that Professor Cahoy and I were in fifteen years ago. While this photo (up until last week when I uploaded it to Facebook) sat in a box in my closet, today's student is actively creating a record of information online of their activities, groups and more (albeit one containing lots of information they'd probably rather not revisit as an adult.)
I also talked about Facebook Beacon and Facebook Connect. Beacon, you might remember, was Facebook's ill-fated attempt to drive data from other commercially-oriented web sites (such as Blockbuster) into users' mini and news feeds. The user outcry over Beacon prompted Facebook to modify Beacon so that user had to acknowledge (or decline) sending third party information to Facebook, and a blanket Beacon opt-out was added to the privacy settings. As David Weinberger put it in this article, user acceptance of features like this could "irrevocably weaken privacy across the Web." Facebook Connect, billed as "the next evolution of the Facebook platform," is taking the opposite approach, using data portability to drive the Facebook social graph and information to other sites, such as The Insider or the CNN Forum. All Facebook privacy controls set by the user also carry over to the third party site. In other words, where and how much Facebook information is shared is in the user's hands. I think that data portability initiatives like this and OpenSocial are the future of the Web, and hopefully the end of the walled garden approach to social web sites like Facebook.
All in all, a great opportunity and (of course) a terrific excuse to show our old improv photos!