15 April 2010

Facebook Button-gate

I've steadily warmed to Bill Thompson's technology articles on the BBC. When I first started reading them, he took a fairly strong state socialist line, to the point of suggesting a heavily regulated "walled garden" internet for Europe, to promote socialist principles. Recently, however, his tone has become noticeably more liberal; the promotion of internet regulation has been replaced by the promotion of a free, user defined internet.

One of the bits of writing which has impressed me most recently is this excerpt from a piece about selling the benefits of the internet to those who choose not to get online (emphasis is mine).
I do firmly believe that the internet is one of the best tools on offer to create a better world, and that we need to work harder to get this point across to those who see Facebook being bullied into adding a "panic" button to its website and believe that this is all the network can give us.
It’s the first time I’ve seen some in the mainstream media describe the actions of CEOP as bullying and I think it’s a brave move.

I agree with Bill. The move by CEOP comes across as a muscle-flexing attempt to assert dominance over Facebook, especially given the threat issued by Jim Gamble, the chief executive of CEOP that:
If they don’t adopt the button we are simply not going to go away.
I don’t believe for a second this is just about child protection. The desire to have their own "panic button" placed on every Facebook page has more than a hint of CEOP attempting to raise their own profile by getting a prime advertising spot. It isn’t as if Facebook doesn’t have a reporting facility; it has even put a system in place to pass reports on to CEOP at the user’s request. The continued objections by CEOP increasing look like a fit of pique because Facebook haven’t meekly given them prime billing and allowed them to create the impression that a report direct to the state is the only available avenue. In terms of continued stability, I prefer Facebook’s solution. Government departments come and go, especially when power changes hands, so having a consistent reporting mechanism built into the site’s own processes, rather than relying on a third party mechanism which my change without notice, would seem to have some advantages.

One of the more pragmatic comments on the issue comes from the BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw:
Other independent child protection experts say it's time to call an end to the dispute.

They say that Facebook is relatively safe, and further damaging publicity could drive users to seek contact in more risky online environments.
I think it’s a valid point which CEOP would do well to consider.

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