The Secret of Nym – March 2015
A combination of events has begun to make the last few months feel a bit like Nymwars 2.0. For those new to this topic, Nymwars was the era in the summer of 2011 when Google Plus suspended people for using names they didn’t think were “name-shaped.” This lead to lots of discussion, including the creation of NymRights. This past summer, after a change in management, Google wound up retracting their policy in full. Facebook seems to have taken the lead on this now, suspending lots of people, including members of the LGBT community and Native American tribes, but also people who have names that apparently look funny.
Incidentally, a lot of the same arguments from 2011 are being rehashed. One of the more common ones is the assertion that Facebook is a private company and can basically do whatever they want. This is true to some extent, in that they legally *do* own all the data, and can set the terms of service to their own system. However, it becomes tricky when we start to consider what the public expectations for these services are. It’s clear that a lot of people are treating Facebook (and Twitter, and other places) like a public forum, even though they are not, and Facebook is not doing much to correct this misunderstanding.
My next favorite argument is the “terms of service” one. It states that, because you agreed to the terms of service, the burden is on you to understand your relationship with the company. On an initial view, this is a very logical argument: you agree to terms, and if you don’t keep them, you can leave the service. There are a few challenges with this though. First, do we think it is safe to assume that a reasonable person would 1. bother to read these terms, some of which are dozens of pages long, and 2. understand them with the same clarity that a lawyer does? Second, if you have an issue or a question about anything within the terms, is there a way to negotiate, or at least ask about it? And finally, if you want to disregard the terms, is there anywhere else you can take your business?
The last challenge is very interesting because it reveals a semi-monopolistic nature of Facebook. There are two reasons I can see immediately why it’s difficult to apply the monopoly term: first, a Facebook user is not a customer, so you have no “business” you can take elsewhere; second, its unclear what domain Facebook occupies, and who their competition is. The first issue hits home the realization that a Facebook user is simple a resource for them to collect data to sell to data brokers, similar to how a coal mining company has coal mines. The second issue is interesting because if you think about it, what space does Facebook occupy? One could argue that there’s an informal agreement where you give them your data in exchange for access to their network. Does that make them a quasi-public space? If I sell things through a Facebook page, does that turn it into a marketplace?
There are many more thing to unpack, but this is a basic entry level analysis of it all. There are a few things in the works that might enable people to have more power in these discussions, so it will be important to watch what happens in the next few months.
Nym Factoid of the Month:
In 1983, a naming law was passed in Sweden requiring new parents to submit their babies name to the government within three months of birth. It was primarily created to prevent non-noble families from giving their babies noble names. Failure to register could result in penalties like fines. In 1991, Elisabeth Hallin and Lasse Diding gave their newborn baby the name
“Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116” to protest this law. In 2007, another couple ran into issues with the court when they tried to name their child “Metallica,” although the issues were dropped when it turned out someone already had “Metallica” as their middle name.
Papers, Please!: originally started to document John Gilmore’s lawsuit against the TSA for their secret ID requirement laws, this site has become an interesting resource for information regarding the right to travel, right to free speech and association, and the issues surrounding things like RealID.