When you are tired of all these online social stuff at some moment, have this idea—“Deactivate your account” ever occurred to you? For many of my friends, the answer is yes. They want to deactivate their accounts permanently or temporarily, maybe just for fun. OK, now, lets try. Click the account button -> deactivate my account. Simple enough, right? However, when you click the last button,a sentence will pop up:”You have successfully deactivated your account, but we are pleased to welcome you back anytime you want as long as you sign in using your username and old password again. All of your information will be preserved by renren including your photos, blogs, shares etc.” It means that you still can be searched and thus still exist in renren networks, the only difference is your home page will be locked for other viewers. Does this seem annoying to you when you really want to “disappear” but unable to do so?
In fact, a renren user do find it intolarable, so what he did was to appeal and write to firstname.lastname@example.org four times stating clearly that he wanted all his data to be cleared up. His appeals lasted two month, and kept receiving vague replies with no actual effective taken to completely eliminate all his information in renren. He then posted a blog in other website in which he angrily appealed: “Why should we becom renren’s slaves? Give my information back!”It occurs to me the first time that copies of us were made online, in particular, in renren. Should we have the ownership of all these information? Should we have some rights to it?
The answer to this question is positive. Some people may argue that those kind of information may be useful to the government or other organizations. It helps to establish more concise data about every user especially when most of them were registered using real names. Thus, when they commit a crime or some other things, those preserved data can be helpful to know more about the criminal, and therefore, contributes to a greater common good. In that case, although the user may be upset about losing control of his of her own information (a harm), the whole society will definitely be better off (a benefit). Hence, it is ethically right to do so. However, what should be noted is that the possibilies for a precise renren user involved in a crime is extremly low, thus in a more general case, being upset (a harm) will outweigh the total benefit of the society, let alone the possiblities of the information being misused (another harm). Consider all this utilitarian perspective, we conclude that “preserving” users data without their content is unethical.
Furthermore, although we do not know the intention of renren, but at least we know that renren is not treating each of its users as an end, but rather a means to an unknown end. Hence, it is again unethichal using Kantian analysis.
Besides ethical aspect of it, let us now consider another question: what are these information used for? Are they kept just for the users’ convience? Clearly not, otherwise the above user’s account will be eliminated long ago. Then, what for? For nothing? We do not know about it yet, but there have been several cases in which renren were stongly criticized for leaking users’ information. Renren denied about the wrongdoing. Nevertheless, these cases regarding privacy violating have attracted some lawyers’ attention. After closely examining the Privacy Contract stated by renren upon register, we find such a statement: “renren may colaborate with a third party to serve our users, in this case, if the third party agree to take the same responsibility as renren to protect our users’ privacy, renren has the right to provide the third party with users information”.(as shown in the picture below)
A lawyer named Ma Yuanchao in Shanghai pointed out frankly that this kind of contract that provides users information without explicitly informing users the exact third party is deemed as an typical unequal contract. So, is it ethical?
No. The contract is not ethical.
let us now analyse using utilitarian theory. With the existence of such contract, renren is enable to convenienly cooperate with a third party to perhaps offer better service to all of the users (a benefit). Also, with the help of personal information, renren can taylor the service to each user and increase the total enjoyment of the users (again a benefit). However, this action causes most of the users anger about it (harm), and also the possibilities of abuse of the information(harm). So it is unethical.
In a communal living society, users’ privacy should not be overlooked. It should be mentioned that renren users’ informaiton is not public records nor public information although it can be viewed by other users. It is personal information. It is open to public only when the creator wants to. Thus, the user has the right to decide who can view all these content, in other words, the user should control the accessbility of those online personal information. By passing all that to a third party without the user content violates the users right to privacy. Hence, it is not ethical.
The two analysis above all prove that this is not right. In addition,Renren is again treating its users as a means to an end, ie. Better service. It is not right by Kantianism either. Thus, it is unethical and should not be done.
So here, I want to appeal as many of the users who has appealled that “we want our right back”.I hope that the legal systems can take actions against the unequal and unethical contract and all the violations. I hope renren community can become a more autonomous networking site.