Facebook loses face
If you totally missed what happened this week, here’s a rundown:
- out of the blue, Facebook discretely changed its Terms of Service. The offending revision granted Facebook the complete ownership of any uploaded content on Facebook – so that means anything you post, personal data, your photos, your uploaded RSS streams from other blogs. Basically, everything. And if you had a hissy fit like me and deleted everything and gave Facebook the finger, they would still retain archived copies of your content.
- the REALLY offending bit of the revised TOS is this – “You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense)….”. The right to sublicense means that Facebook could flog your content, personal information or your photos to other parties. So let’s say an airline was looking for a photo of a cute collie dog for their latest marketing campaign – they could take one of my dog photos and sell the subrights to the airline. Commercial purposes would rule and I would have no say or control over it.
No doubt a lot of sheep people said to themselves “who cares, they can take my photos and my post about getting so sloshed last Saturday, I didn’t show up for work on Monday”. But seems a lot of people did care (thank goodness).
Just as I was busy hitting the zap button and deleting all my content on my Facebook page (and firing off an angry email to them, liberally peppered with the words “betrayal” “loss of trust”, “privacy” and “arrogancy”) the Twittersphere was positively electric with concerned comments and a number of protest groups launched on Facebook. Of course, it’s the ultimate battle between users sharing information freely and willingly and control of information on the Internet.
With protests swirling around their ears, Facebook’s privacy officer was declaring that they didn’t get the fuss and had not done anything wrong (proving really that they just don’t get it!). Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) was gearing up to whack Facebook with a lawsuit but Zuckerberg and his crew backed down in the knick of time and restored its original policy. EPIC, of course, forced Microsoft to revise Passport, after an FTC investigation and also ensured privacy safeguards on the Google-Doubleclick merger.
The power of a social network was very clearly on show over the last week and I think it really highlights how big companies like Facebook and Google are helping us connect and store content BUT at any moment could change their Terms of Service and zippo, your content is no longer your own.
I for one will be seriously considering whether I’ll be bothered to reactivate my Facebook presence. I’ll join the group Facebook Bill of Rights & Responsibilities, which I hope will generate a useful conversation with Facebook around governing principles. Facebook is a valuable social network, sure, but you might want to think about posting photos of yourself sloshed out of your mind at some party or saying too much about yourself personally. Especially, if the conspiracy rumours are right and the CIA started Facebook.
You might also want to check out this thoughtful blog post that compares the outrageous Facebook TOS with the TOS from other social networking sites. The audacity of Facebook IMHO in even thinking that users would accept their new TOS was quite amazing really. Can trust between Facebook and its users be re-established?