OpenSocial Becomes More Open, Facebook Says No; AOL Flamed By Mag; Court Rules Against Clicking Minors

The big news today comes from a trio of major Internet brands. Google, Yahoo, and News Corp.’s MySpace joined forces to announce that OpenSocial, the social networking platform alternative to Facebook’s platform, is going to become a non-profit foundation. As such, it will have a completely separate management and identity from Google and the others sponsoring the initiative. Here’s the companies’ joint “intent agreement.”

The stated goal of the new non-profit is to “provide transparency and operational guidelines around technology, documentation, intellectual property, and other issues related to the evolution of the OpenSocial platform, while also ensuring all stakeholders share influence over its future direction.”

Facebook has formally declined to participate and issued the following statement, reported by CNET:

“As the largest contributor to the memecached system, Facebook has long been a leader and supporter of open source initiatives but will not join the foundation. The company will continue to evaluate partnership opportunities that will benefit the 300,000 Facebook Platform developers while improving the Facebook user experience.”

AOL, which has flirted with combining or aligning with Yahoo in the wake of Microsoft’s takeover bid, is profiled in a harshly critical Fast Company article. PaidContent summarizes the high and low points. After years of purported missteps, the article sees Platform A as the opportunity for the company but also sees risk in a go-it-alone strategy:

Whether or not Bewkes breaks up AOL, staggering on as an ad business without a strategic partner could eventually lead into a death spiral. If Microsoft were to succeed in swallowing Yahoo, AOL would lose two of its most obvious potential buyers. At IAC, Barry Diller told investors in February that although he was once interested in buying AOL, “I don’t really feel the same way now” unless it “came down in price to something ridiculous.” As an orphan, AOL’s online-ad business would be left to fight for market share in a fiercely competitive sector, dominated by Google and a potential Microsoft-Yahoo tie-up. The only hope, perhaps, would be for the latter two companies to fare as badly together as AOL and Time Warner have.

Finally today, a potentially major ruling on minors and online “contracts.” Eric Goldman explains the A.V. v. iParadigms case on his Technology & Marketing Law Blog. The case involved four minor high school students and an online software company, iParadigms, which operates a anti-plagiarism service for teachers.

One issue in the case involved the extent to which the students could be bound by a “clickwrap agreement” (i.e., clicking on “I accept” binds users to terms & conditions, etc.). While clickwrap agreements have been legally upheld, the novel element here is the involvement of minors. Minors ordinarily have limited abilities to enter into binding agreements and most of the time those agreements can be voided. However, the court in this case refused to let the minors off the hook on grounds of “infancy.” Here’s what Goldman says about iParadigms and its potential significance in this respect:

This is a ruling of potentially large significance. I’ve long believed that courts would struggle with dismissing claims by minors against websites because of the voidability issue, which seemingly left a large class action hole against all websites with minors as users. That hole may still exist–it depends on whether the contract is complete or not, and in many cases both parties will have incomplete obligations in a standard website EULA. Despite this, it’s clear that this judge wasn’t going to entertain any bypass that threatened the integrity of the Turnitin service, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many other courts would reach the same conclusion in other circumstances.

There’s a way in which this provision of the ruling could potentially be expanded and exploited by websites and online publishers in their dealings with minors. Let’s hope that does not happen.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Search Biz


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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