Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Social Networking, Profile Portability and the Law

As so called Facebook and Myspace fatigue sets in there are numerous 'niche' social networking sites setting up and taking hold.

These start ups concentrate on particular industries or activities that people have in common but with each comes different and unique legal risks. Apart from Data Protection the main risks lie in the User Generated Content (UGC) that is usually the key to the success of the site. Some of the main copyright issues of UGC have been addressed by the big players but there are risks beyond copyright infingement.

For example www.forkd.com (which I really like) provides culinary networking - allowing users to share and amend recipes. Immediate questions that spring to mind include what happens if someone has an allergic reaction to the ingredients in a recipe or worse they are maliciously poisonous?, what if the recipes are copied from the latest Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver? I could go on....... I am sure that forkd's lawyers have already considered these issues in detail and this is by way of example only.

Apart from the classic tale of how to monetise these businesses there are very different problems associated with the user generated content that is being published depending on the type of content.

My view is that these risks can be managed effectively in the terms and conditions of membership but with a global membership there may be different jurisdictional and dietary problems.

One problem that has not currently been addressed is whether profile portability (whereby I can log onto other social networks using the information in my existing profile) will incorporate acceptance of these additional terms and conditions.

For example if I sign up to Myspace and then port my profile to Forkd have I accepted the Forkd terms and conditions of use?

No doubt this will work on a practical level but it always seems to be that the legal position is always following the real life position. As with all new enterprises the directors will have to balance risk versus reward.

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