Legitimate access control is essential to increase the trust and participation critical to any online social group. The following access control
rules suggest how Universal Social Rights can be specified in a way that can be implemented by any social technology designer. Below each rule is a brief discussion of how its implementation would civilize the Internet. In the future, we may look back on today as the Wild West period of software.
Accountability Rule: All rights to an existing entity must be allocated to actors at all times.
Software has no right to act of its own accord because it is not accountable. Just as people delivering a new TV deciding to re-organize your lounge is a liberty, so a new browser changing your browser defaults is a liberty. In the law, might is not right and “because I can” is not a reason. Modern smartphones allow other liberties, like apps that upload address book contact lists to use for their own purposes, see here. In December 2012, it was found that Carrier IQ software was recording and uploading keystrokes made, phone numbers dialed and texts sent on 140 million smartphones. An operating system with access control that followed the accountability rule would not allow this, e.g. the Android platform requires apps to ask before accessing the owner‘s data, instead of letting them just steal it.
Freedom Rule: A persona always holds all rights to itself.
In 1993, NYU undergraduates controlling an avatar called Mr. Bungle in a text based virtual reality called LamdaMOO some how gained the power of “voodoo” to control other players [Dibbell, 1993 #1423], and one night used it to virtually “rape” several female characters, making them respond as if they enjoyed it. No physical law was broken as there was no physical contact and so no legal rape but the LambdaMOO community was so outraged that one of the “wizards” unilaterally deleted the Mr. Bungle character. After much discussion, the system was altered to make “voodoo” an illegal power. The social requirement that one should control oneself carried over into cyberspace. Likewise when a person dies, their online persona should be deactivated as it is no longer an actor. Facebook took a while to realize that when a person dies their family doesn’t want out of control software agents sending jovial reminders to wish them a Happy Birthday, as here. The social logic again prevailed. Now one can memorialize their account so it can be viewed but not logged into or changed. I should not have to die to memorialize a site I own, but should be able to do it at any time, knowing it is irreversible.
Privacy Corollary. A persona always holds the right to display itself.
Privacy is not secrecy but the right to display oneself, so one may choose to be public. Current software tends to ignore privacy until challenged, e.g. Facebook only changed the practice of making new accounts public by default to friends only when its privacy came under scrutiny. Yet this gesture still ignores the social rule that all display is up to the person, not Facebook. How hard is it, when setting up an account, to ask whether it be displayed to:
Privacy is not hard – it just means that everyone has the choice to display personal data because they own themselves.
Containment Rule: Every online entity is dependent upon a parent space, up to the system space.
That everything exists in something else allows online spaces within spaces. For example, suppose Attila, a discussion forum owner, finds a post by Luke, an independent contributor, to be offensive, but Luke disagrees. What can happen? More importantly, what should happen? Is Luke free to say what he wants? Can Attila simply delete the item because it is his board? Can he edit the item to remove the offensive part? Can he he ban Luke from entering the board? Can he ban Luke from the system? Can he set the board to “watch” Luke, and keep a log of all his activities? Can he alter Luke’s name on the post to “Gross-Luke” until he learns a lesson? Can Luke “fix” the item and resubmit it? Since such situations arise online every day, its time to set some standards on such conflicts.
Following the access control rules outlined here:
1. Luke owns the “offensive” item, so Attila cannot delete or edit it.
2. Luke owns his own persona, so Attila cannot change Luke’s name to to “Gross-Luke”.
3. Attila owns the board space, so he can withdraw display rights (reject).
4. If Luke’s post is rejected, he can still see it, edit it, and request it be reconsidered for display by Attila.
5. Attila cannot ban Luke from from a space that contains an item he owns, else the post becomes an “orphan”.
6. Attila cannot record Luke’s activity without his knowledge.
7. Attila can ask the administrator to deactivate and delete Luke’s persona, which then deletes all his posts.
Supporting legitimate rights allows more positive social interaction. If the post was simply deleted, Luke might assume a system error and resubmit it, unaware it was “rejected”, increasing the conflict with Attila. If his post is edited, posters may lose confidence in the board, even more so if Attilla personally attacks Luke by changing his name. In contrast, if Luke can see his post is rejected and can amend it, he change it and ask again to display it in Attila’s space. He also knows that to submit more such posts, risks exclusion from the system which would delete all his posts. Balancing basic rights allows a socially better interaction. Note that whether the post really is “offensive” is irrelevant to this case.
What if Luke’s “offensive” post is in a thread run by Attila under a higher board run by Ghengis, who does not find the post offensive? If both Attila and Ghengis could take over Luke’s post by editing it, one could get an “edit war” between them. The legitimate option now is that Luke could appeal to Ghengis to “depose” Attila, by taking back his delegated control of the thread, or give it to someone more tolerant. The beauty of social legitimacy is that all the rules still work. While the program answer to the above questions is “whatever you want”, the social answer is to respect basic rights of ownership. When people know what to expect from ownership, they have more trust.