What are Webmaster Ethics?

Humans all over are fast switching on their online avatars, and living the virtual life on Social Networks, Micro-blogs and Forums. There is more than four times growth in users online in the past decade. What does this mean? Until 2007 21.3% of world population was active on the internet according to World Bank stats. i.e Approx 1 408 866 540 (21.3% of world population in 2007) users were sharing a significant part of their personal information such as Full Name, Address, Phone number or Contacts on a web-service. Today the figures are far beyond imagination.

Today we don’t think twice before giving away our Full Name and Email-Id to any web-service. Precisely, we practice the trend of creating multiple copies of our personal information in pieces at different locations on the Internet. For eg: An online SMS service would have my mobile number, while an online gift shop would have my address. Users find it less risky when assured that other users or search-engines won’t see this information. But, does anyone really know that there exists a group of people who have more privileges on the web-service than other users. Yes! the webmasters.

A webmaster is a person who owns administrator access to the web-service for one obvious reason. He created it. Popular web-services such as Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Google store user information beyond imagination. If there is supposed to be an estimate market value for this user information, the figures would be surprising to most. And for the few who wonder, who would buy this information? Ans: Every company that wants find its potential customer and sell its products. There are more, but this represents the majority.

Sharing user information with a third-party is where “Webmaster Ethics” are the most concerned. Most users would recommend their information not to be shared, but then, what source of income would a service like Twitter have with no Advertisement Revenue? Services like twitter do share information with third-party services to generate revenue, but its perfectly fine unless and until it follows the ethics. So what would these Webmaster Ethics be?

  • The obvious one, not to target any user to gain access to his/her information.
  • Sharing user information with third-party being the last priority and keeping it as anonymous as possible.
  • Preventing storage of any user information, that is not involved in the functioning of the Service.
  • Allowing users to identify the pieces of information that will be accessible to third-parties. Eg: Twitter shares only public tweets and private Twitter accounts are excluded from third-party access.
  • Maintaining a strict usage policy for third-parties in order to ensure no privacy violations.
  • Using information to provide exceptionally better services to the user should be the top priority.

The points mentioned above are my recommendations and are mostly parallel to law. While the last point has a very interesting use case. This is a very predictive approach on one of Google’s initiative in help for Chile Earthquake victims.

Google had released a service called “Person Finder”, where users could search the names of their loved ones, and obtain a status of the name. This service was up in less than 12 hours of the tragedy. The service took details from other users/volunteers about status of other users present in the Earthquake struck region. But some how I fail to believe that this is the only mechanism behind the working. Here is my completely predictive approach towards how Google could have used their huge information-base for generating Person Finder results.

Filtering results to users registered from Chile, or accessing their accounts from IP addresses that belong to Chile (in case of tourists) and analysing their communication/activity on any of the Google products like Gmail, Google Voice, Maps etc. would ensure that the user has tried to communicate with somebody and thus create an approximate result for that name. I would like to elaborate more in such a use case but i’ll save it for my future posts. The point I intend to make here is, that Google has/could use their current information-base to provide the necessary help to its users in a very exceptional way. And this is what exactly defines their ethics on information usage.

I would thus conclude that using personal information on a web-service should be completely prioritised for the benefit of the user. This will also power the users trust in the service and contribute to its growth.