More reactive than flourine. Funnier than boron.
At Least Tombstone Had Wyatt Earp…

FacebookOnline social networking really is the wild, wild west.

I ran across this factoid today on Twitter (H/T @marc_meyer): Australian courts have said distributing legal documents via Facebook is acceptable. I had no idea. After doing some additional research, I found that New Zealand (New Zealander? Zealandish?) and Canadian courts have also ruled that posting a document to a Facebook account is fine. (Link here.) US courts have not held that to be the case, but the idea that Facebook–a for-profit, American, public company run by non-elected employees with their own set of interests, ideas and agenda–should be placed in the position of distributing legal documents in any country just doesn’t seem smart to me.

I’m sure some would think that’s a little overboard; after all, why should Facebook be any different than UPS or Fedex or a bicycle messenger or a process server in distributing legal documents? In principle, I don’t disagree with that. But then I ran across this story that has received very little notice in the press. That’s right, Facebook was socked with a $9.5 million judgment in a class action suit for divulging user’s private information through its misguided (and now defunct) Beacon project. And these are the folks that should be handling legal documents?

This is in no way an attempt to single out Facebook or its employees as irresponsible or bad. Someone made a boneheaded decision and Facebook is being asked to pay for it. But the payment is being made through a civil proceeding, not criminal, so it means that consumers were responsible for policing this part of the social networking world. (Sadly, the affected class of consumers are getting next to nothing while class action attorneys, as is usually the case, are getting about a third of the judgment. Nice.)

I’m no fan of criminalizing everything, and I don’t know that a criminal case against Facebook would have yielded any better results or encouraged Facebook to rethink its privacy standards. These two cases simply underscore my growing feeling that it is up to consumers to be vigilant in monitoring their online presence and the data that is being used to define them more and more. I’m going to revisit this topic in my next post because the sheer volume of data that is collected, analyzed and distributed is mind boggling. Don’t worry, it’s not an anti-big-brother screed. In fact, I think consumers are now better positioned to understand and control their ‘data fates’ than ever before.

There’s a new sheriff in town and that sheriff is us…

(And before you send me an email that the correct usage is ‘we,’ don’t bother. I know. I’m just paraphrasing the famous saying. Relax, ok?)

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