For an open standard of social media

Email is a standard. It is called SMTP, simple mail transfer protocol. All mail clients, i.e. programs that handles the mails, understand it, independent of operating system or client used. Apple mail can communicate with eudora, thunderbird with outlook, etc. – no conversion needed.

Every end user can choose the client he or she wants, be it a browser-based client like gmail or an stand-alone client like those mentioned above.

Not so with social networks. You have to use the same website, have an account and be logged in to communicate with your social media friends. If you use google+ and your friend is using facebook, you can’t communicate.

Social Media Exchange Protocol

What if there were a standard, a protocol for social media interactions? A standard, let’s call it Social Media Exchange Protocol (SMEP), that would not only let you share social media content across different social media services but also allow for social media interaction that were independent of any particular social networking site.[1]

With an open standard social media interactions could become like email today. That would foster diversity of software in the same way today’s email clients come in different flavours and plenty of additional plug-ins. People could still use facebook as is[2] but others could use free and open-source software with extended functionalities such as off-line browsing, archiving, etc. Social media interactions could grow and expand in ways not seen before.[3]

The main advantage, however, would lie in privacy. Different social media clients, i.e. programs (stand-alone software applications) could communicate with each other without an central server. To illustrate the difference: if I send an email to a hundred friends (as blind copy), only I know who received the mails.[4] If I post on facebook, facebook knows all receivers and the sender plus later the likes, reposts, etc.

Stand-alone software applications could manage ʻfriendsʼ and ʻcircles of friendsʼ with full privacy: No company would know what kind of friends and how many I have and to whom I send what kind of content. With the addition of “anonymous likes”, i.e. likes that do not reveal the liker[5], the metadata of social media interactions would be drastically reduced. These steps alone are quantum leap forward in privacy.

All this could be implemented by an open social media standard.

Improving privacy means limiting the power of manipulation.

Even if the accusations that Trump won the presidency because of facebook are exaggerated, the extended power that comes with “big data” should not be overlooked. Decision about how much private data one gives to a company that sells it after to anyone that can pay – be it the Trump election team or a Swiss business party[6] – should be a matter of choice in a democratic society.

An open standard for social media interactions is therefore a democratic necessity in today’s world.

***

1 At present, social networking is site-based, i.e. the user has to create an account on a specific website to join.

2 If facebook were to adapt to the standards …

3 I personally see a fusion of email client, social media client, RSS feeds and twitter in one piece of software, were the messages are “facebook-like” in the middle with additional menus left and right. Tabs that are in effect filters could switch the view from business emails to entertaining social media content to political news, etc.

4 To be precise, for full anonymity I have to have my own private mail server with only myself having access to it. If I were to use any external service like gmail to send the mails through, the respective company can see and use the metadata.

5 I am not sure how to do that as the liker has to be prevented to like more than once. Maybe an approach similar to digital currency can do the trick, i.e. one `like` is anonymous but with a second `like` for the same post the anonymity would break.

6 Just weeks after the story came out, that Trump won because of facebook, a poll about ending all nuclear power in Switzerland seems to have been rejected by the people because of micro-targeting. The result – 54% no – has not been expected.

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