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Social Media and Memory Ownership

I was reading Digg today to figure out whether or not I should join, and even just how to do it.  It is not easy if you don’t have facebook, twitter, google accounts to link to.  Digg wants you but more importantly, they want your network of personal relationships and associations.

As some of you will know, I like reading things like corporate annual reports, ‘terms of use’ statements, privacy pledges, and other techno-corporate-legal-bureaucrat mumbo jumbo.  Because just as your eyes are ready to glaze over, something will often jump out of these limp and lazy sources that is hugely important.  If you’re real lucky, the insight might be valuable for a long time.

So today I thought about Digg.  After the frustrating discovery that for Digg to be useful you had to join facebook, google and company, I decided I was up for even more torture.  So I read Diggs’ ‘terms of use’ and ‘privacy‘ statements. As I said, these things can be useful, interesting, occasionally they’re even fun to read. This time did not disappoint.

Case in point. Rule 3 of Diggs’ Terms of Use raised interesting question about what happens to our ‘memories’, or ‘digital persona’, when they are unplugged from the network social media environment? And who owns our digital data image?

Here’s a quote from Rule 3 that got me thinking:

“Digg may change, suspend or discontinue the Services including any content (including, but not limited to text, user comments, messages, data, information, graphics, news articles, photographs, images, illustrations, software, audio clips, and video clips) for any reason, at any time . . . .”

The reference to time, of course, was a dead give away that we should think about memory. But seriously, if we build up a digital persona of ourselves using text, data, comments, graphics, images, audio clips, etc. etc., should someone else be able to “change, suspend, or discontinue” our ‘digital’ replicant as they please?  No forewarning. No requirement to send a ‘zip.file’ containing all your data, just bam, unplugged. Company’s been taken over, gone bankrupt, whatever, you’ve just lost a lot.  This is what happened to many music afficionados early in 2010 when Google’s blogspot pulled the plug on thousands of music related blogs in early 2010.

What would a ‘good digital persona storage’ practice or policy look like?

These are not just questions about memory (or ‘digital personae), but of property as well.  When it comes to the question of property, Digg is pretty clear that “[U]ser information is typically one of the business assets that . . . we may choose to buy or sell”. Personal information, in short, is private property.  That would seem to let the company do whatever it wants the personal information that gathers around its activities. Therein, however, lay the tension between property and memory.

Personal information can never be Digg’s exclusive ‘business asset’, of course, because it is so cheap and easy to reproduce, so memory and ‘digital replicants’ are relatively safe.  The possibility that our ‘digital personal’ or ‘replicants’ could simply be yanked from cyberspace, however, is still cause for concern. The fact that Digg has adopted creative commons principles, however, at least makes repeating ourselves easier.

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