Last week after I wrote about Google’s new social networking service and the strength of its security model compared to its competitors’, Facebook’s Simon Axten responded. Thanks to Mr. Axten for responding –an open conversation about privacy and free speech online is a first step toward making sure the internet will be a space where the rights of users come first. It’s encouraging that Facebook took the time to publicly consider these issues. In his response, Mr. Axten makes two claims about Facebook’s privacy policies. The first is that Facebook doesn’t sell information to advertisers; the second is that Facebook provides users with simple methods to control who views their content. Both could use some further examination.
This month Google launched its third foray into the world of social networking and, while invitations are still limited, early reports suggest that Google+ includes several encouraging features to help users control their online presence and keep their data secure. Google has a mixed history in this field, their first attempt, Orkut, has a large following in several countries but never really caught on in the US while their second, Google Buzz, was a disaster which shared information without users’ consent with individuals with whom they may have had only the slightest connection. It appears that, with Google+, the company has incorporated the lessons of its previous errors, as well as the messages from critics of other social networking services.
With President Obama fresh off a visit to Facebook Headquarters in Silicon Valley for a town hall meeting on the role of social media in politics, the social networking company is considering investments in China, a country whose government wants social media out of politics.
Human Rights First is honored to be hosting Esraa Abdel Fattah for a week of events in Washington, D.C. Esraa is a leading Egyptian democracy and human rights activist. In April 2008, she was imprisoned for her role in organizing what became known as the April 6th Facebook Protests, a mobilization of thousands of young people demanding political change, and which helped fuel the youth movement behind the mass protests that brought down President Mubarak on February 11, 2011.
Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a well-timed speech on Internet freedom. Surely she will—and should—cite the overthrow of authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt to argue that the Internet can facilitate sweeping social change. But she should also recommit the United States to a policy of supporting Internet freedom that gives content to the concept of the “freedom to connect” by ensuring that the universal freedoms of expression and association, and the right to privacy are protected.