The case of the disappearing Facebook accounts

The DigitalBeat column on VentureBeat recently reported on a case where three critics of Facebook had their accounts mysteriously deactivated.

Juan Faerman, an author in Argentina who wrote a book called Faceboom, the cover of which has the title rendered in a font which easily could be mistaken for Facebook’s official logo, had his profile deactivating shortly after releasing the book, along with two others involved in the book and its marketing.

More troubling than that is Facebook shut down a group for fans of the book, which the trio claims had 30,000 fans at the time of shutdown. This smacks of censorship. It is one thing to claim trademark infringement due to similarities between the book’s cover and the official Facebook logo, but I feel Facebook crossed way over the line here.

Most troubling is that it took VentureBeat’s inquiry as well as an uproar in Latin American media in order for Juan to get his account back. This is unacceptable. Shame on you, Facebook.

At one time I wrote, but did not publish, a no-nonsense parody of one of Facebook’s help files. Which one, you ask? Okay, I’ll come clean. I parodied the one about the block function after someone blocked me. I was hesitant to publish it, if for no other reason because I’m not sure where it should go. It’s too good, and unfortunately, also a bit too no-nonsense and too profane to put in a blog post.

I’d like to think Facebook wouldn’t deactivate my account over it, though. The case for a distributed social network that cannot be arbitrarily censored by any one party is a lot closer to being made if Facebook were to do so, however.

Illogical beyond words: Italy vs. Google

Normally I relish the opportunity to roast large companies like Google and hold them accountable. In this case, however, no sane person can possibly side with Google’s opponent, the Italian government, in this case.

This TechCrunch story links to a post on the official Google blog which describes a situation where three Google employees were found criminally responsible for failing to comply with the Italian privacy code in relation to a video uploaded by a YouTube user in Italy. A fourth Google employee was acquitted. From the Google blog post:

To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video’s existence until after it was removed.

… In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.

This is paramount to holding employees of an automobile manufacturer such as Ford or GM criminally liable for a drunk driver’s actions (or for that matter, someone at, say, a Budweiser or Coors plant). It’s crazy. It’s dumb. In fact “galactically stupid” and “box of rocks dumb” don’t really do it justice at all.

I’m not even sure the wording used to describe the intelligence of a computer in a book I read as a kid would do it. That book described a computer as having the intelligence of a very stupid worm. To compare this judge’s intelligence to the stupidest of the worms would be an insult to the worms.

I feel compelled to drag out the quote from the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding” yet again:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

Never has this been clearer than this instance. If the judge is applying the law correctly, then the law is more broken than the result of dropping a grand piano from an airliner. If not, then this should be reversed on appeal and the judge stripped of his authority.

If allowed to stand, this is a horrifying threat to the Internet as we know it, and it may not remain confined to Italy and Italian law. I concur with this quote later in the post:

[W]e are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming.

Indeed, common sense isn’t so common anymore. Remember this if you’re travelling to Italy.