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Does Facebook’s Privacy Policy Presage a New Era of Virtual Civil Rights?

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I had yet another either wacky or, maybe, prophetic revelation this morning. I was reading a post on “Augie Ray’s Blog For Interactive Marketing Professionals” which details the flap that recent suggested privacy changes on Facebook are creating within the Facebook user community. Essentially, Facebook is floating the idea by its users that would authorize Facebook to share user profile information with other websites, but only when FB users are signed in and browsing the internet. So, in other words, if I happen to log into Facebook and, while I’m using it simultaneously log into another website, FB might share information it has on file for me with that other site, so they can offer me a “more customized” experience.

Reaction to Facebook’s idea has been swift and pretty universally negative. Turns out that there are lots of folks out there that are resentful that, now that Facebook has created a desirable online environment for them and collected a lot of (valuable) demographic information, they might actually want to sell that information and make some cashola.

All of this has gotten me thinking about much larger political and cultural issues. This dilemma Facebook finds itself in is fed by the obvious yearning by many for some sort of “universal” public space on the internet. These desires, currently, are at odds with the legitimate commercial interests of that space’s creator.

Facebook, it seems, is finally realizing one of the earliest promises of the early dot.com era. They’ve created a single forum on the Internet where virtually everyone and their grandmother hangs out. (I knew this universality was real when I get a friend invite from my nearly 80 year old Mom two weeks ago…) Their success, though, might prove to be their undoing.

The problem with individuals or companies creating a wildly successful, “game changing” paradigm for the way we live our lives is that sometimes folks start thinking that it’s their right to indulge in that new paradigm, absent the commercial aspirations of its creators.

I guess what I’m driving at is: suppose we begin to take the idea of a universal “virtual world” as not a privilege but an actual right? So much of our lives now revolve around our worlds online. I spend my day checking email, Tweeting, writing a blog and checking out CNN.com. At night I play an online multiplayer game for a couple of hours, which is basically like spending my evening in a Virtual World. My experience is more the norm than the exception these days.

So, much in the way that we, as a society, decided that there needed to be public spaces, marketplaces, parks, etc, in the actual world, might we not decide that such places online are also universal rights that everyone should be afforded?

I dunno, maybe it’s a wacky thought…

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