Network At Your Own Peril
Fraley vs. Facebook Class Action Case Brings To The Fore The Emerging Digital Currency System — And The Boundaries Of Internet Privacy
Image by stoneysteiner and used under a Creative Commons license.
By Gentry Braswell
Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 22, 2013 — When a group or culture pushes past the boundaries into new realms — whether in a digital or analog environment, abstract or linear, contextual or aesthetic — the relevant precedents of the common law of the sea always stand with the infinite glory of instant karma. The sword cuts both ways.
Litigation has made its way to the United States District Court in San Jose, California, escorted by a proposed settlement of $20 million for Facebook’s apparent non-consensual use of its account holders’ names, profile pictures, and identities for the social media site’s advertisements.
Fraley, et al. v. Facebook, Inc., et al, (CV-11-01726 RS) is timely in helping reinforce an emerging digital currency system. Digitally, linking to your friend’s poetry or mentioning the address of your brother’s firm may not involve the exchange of script, notes, or paper, nevertheless a transaction in good faith has essentially occurred. It is increasingly recognized that this sort of activity has real market relevance and equity. In fact, such networking is the capital coin of the electronic realm where the value of a community is generated and defined entirely by its constituency. It is a proactive, encouraged form of networking and is comparable to friendly word-of-mouth advertising. Legitimate new money is incumbent old money. Generally, anything else is widely recognized as unwanted solicitation at best. Spam, phishing, spoofing, and other such online trolling is how squatters, con artists, and other interlopers attempt to gain a toehold in people’s neighborhoods, networks, system architectures, and lives.
In any such conversation, regardless of the contextual venue, it is important to define and retain the appropriate physical boundaries and ontological juxtapositions among intellectual property, privacy, right of way, identity, marketplace, transaction, currency, value, and exclusivity. Simply because an activity is opportune in one venue and not so in another (“There is no rule against it”) does not define the ruling ethic nor should it govern behavior. And, if something seems harmless after the fact (“People will get over it”), it does not expressly denote ethical behavior nor is this a practical way to define community terms. These are the kinds of questions about ethics that must be constantly addressed by responsible parties in order for a community to allow a free range of motion in a given venue, while functioning autonomously and existing exclusively from other communities and public rights of way.
It is dazzlingly critical that certain transcendental elements of the issue are not outshined by the digital medium being evaluated. Just like any other community, digital or analog, it is up to Facebook’s user community to define itself and set its rules. If a person does not want her personal account to be involved in business-to-business advertising, it would probably be wise for her to select something besides the Facebook network when she chooses social media clients. Also, Facebook is not the Internet. We must avoid the ad hominem fallacy that stems from confusing the digital medium at large for specific modi therein. For the purposes that Facebook currently serves, such as for viewing photographs of one’s former classmate’s children, the tracking and profiling of sociological demographics and behavior, business-to-business advertising, cottage-industry marketing, and as a general chatter box, it is apparently successful. We at Modern Times magazine love it! A caveat that must be made here is one of principal, though — this company did not ask or disclaim (presumably now it does) that it would use individual personal accounts as corporate advert mules, e.g., the “Sponsored Ads” described in the lawsuit. Conversely, corporate Facebook accounts and public figures welcome this sort of ambient marketing atmosphere. What is ad clutter to one community, is ad support to some other one.
Sent to potential class members, a notification of the Fraley v. Facebook settlement said that the company denies any wrongdoing and any liability. It also says that no other court or regulator has made any judgment or determination of liability regarding this issue. The case could set a legal precedent and have some role in defining the legal landscape of the digital world. With that, is germane to the welfare of our at-large marketplace of ideas.
Fine. And remember, Facebook is not the Internet.
On a digital chip, modern life’s expectations are much the same as life in, say, an often smoggy but frequently-decent residential neighborhood in West Houston. If the community suspects a crime has occurred or is occurring, or if something that the community has defined as a crime occurs in plain sight, there is an obligation for the community to mobilize and intervene, thus compromising the criminal’s freedom and head space. And as on the neighborhood block, so on the web. But beyond that, generally, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy; and unless you have specifically authorized otherwise, people cannot view the contents of your underwear drawer, watch you undress, enter your dwelling, or take your belongings.
I or my pseudonymous aliases may like “Tough Mudder,” for example, but Tough Mudder cannot not hang Tough Mudder signs on the front gate of my home, and neither can the property owner nor the city of Houston. Further, these organizations cannot advertise for Tough Mudder in my name(s). Similarly, an electronic mail address is privileged, sensitive, personal information, and it can be compared with a residential address in that it should not be disseminated to anyone whom you would not want as a dinner guest, at the least. For this common sense reason, among many others, the practice of providing electronic mail lists of individuals to third parties is extremely dangerous. So, as with real property, information related to the access of intellectual property is extremely sensitive, and mindful examination and clarification on the subject, when the opportunity arises, is critical.
John Paul Sartre used the term “abandonment” to “describe the absence of any sources of ethical authority, either in religion or from an understanding of the natural world,” according to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995. Many of us (we writers for example) in this new dawn of the 21st century, have found ourselves facing an enabling and inspiring world of opportunity in this increasingly integrated digital-analog hybrid world. Concurrently, many of us are coming of age in our own right judgment and find ourselves so empowered, standing on our own upon such a plateau. It is our place to appropriately define our communities, define our market terms, “valuate” our currencies, and groom and police our intellectual gardens.
Gentry Braswell is the Nation/World editor for Modern Times Magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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