Michael Clarke emailed an interesting tale about the invasions of social networks on his privacy and his rights as a producer to the VRM mailing list. He was hoping we could provide some VRM clarity on his frustrations, and I’m sharing my reply here as well.

Excerpt from Social Network Terms of Service: what’s mine is whose? by Michael Clarke:

Hardly a day goes by without a handful of invitations to new social networking services landing in my inbox. The e-friend machine du jour seems to be this Spock thing. I’m getting 3-4 “requests for my trust” per day. And if it’s not Spock, it’s Trig, or ECademy, or MyRagan, or Quechup, or some other Ning-based abomination.

…I’m just getting really tired of all these Web 2.oh communities that want to lay claim to all of the content contributed by their users.

The Spock Terms Of Service are a good example. They include a piece of irritating legal boilerplate that is popping up – in one form or another – all over the place:

“You hereby grant Spock (and each of its registered users, as limited by the “Personal Use Only” section, above) the royalty-free, unlimited, perpetual, non-exclusive, irrevocable right and license to make, use, copy, distribute, display, publish, perform, modify, or translate any such Postings for any purpose and in any medium worldwide (including but not limited to incorporating the Postings into Spock databases or any other Spock property, product, or service) and to sublicense the foregoing rights, and this sublicense right, to others.”

I’m sorry, but no.

…The catch is, when one joins one of these services, one is explicitly accepting their terms – terms which, in most cases, allow them to ignore whatever restrictions (or unrestrictions) you’ve put in place.

…So. Am I wrong to worry about all this stuff?

Click through and read the whole piece. Here’s how I replied:

Your frustration is 100% VRM related. VRM gives the individual, the consumer, more power. The consumer who is really at the heart of it a producer. Whether we admit it or not, we produce at the very least data, at the very best content worth sharing.

The problem with social network sites is a general lack of a business model. At least when dealing with Target or Southwest Airlines, they understand CRM, and see us in that light as consumers worthy of crappy CRM relationships. Social networks forget they’re still a service provider. They don’t even think in terms of CRM, at least not towards their users (at best in terms of PR), because to them, we’re not actually their customers. We’re their revenue as objects purchased by advertisers, and those are their customers. Advertisers are the people who they actually want to build CRM systems for like Beacon.

It’s all because we’ve blurred the line between producer and consumer. We’re both producer and consumer, but because their services are free, yet require money to run, we’re neither paying nor receiving. We’re fish in a bucket. That in turn justifies the “appropriation” of content provided by us without due compensation or consideration. Who can totally blame them, though, with all these VCs pushing for them to make money when there’s no lid on the bucket to keep them from putting their hands in and scooping a handful or two.

VRM is an understanding that we are producers (albeit invisible producers for the most part), and we have rights as producers beyond our rights a consumers. It’s also an understanding that vendors require a fair deal as much as we do. Some vendors will understand the benefit of giving control back to, or over to, the originators, us as authentic producers of data and content, since we are better situated to manage our data and content while including them as fits us as well as them. Otherwise, in the meantime, some still prefer business as usual (plus the added benefits of this whole Web 2.0 sharing going on – without sharing equally back).

Without VRM we can’t negotiate ToS, but with it, we have a chance at prescribing our ToS. VRM of course should be the guide so all of us don’t have to become lawyers or experts in data collection, retention, and distribution.