Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook declares they own your info forever?

Updated: Facebook does an about-turn on Terms of Service after uproar from users and threat of lawsuit. Caroline McCarthy gives the latest.

Facebook sprang to life after users questioned the privacy rights of MySpace. Both groups, social and political networking tools, have captured the attention of millions.

Many who are currently on Facebook are there because they felt safer knowing only their network of friends had access to their information, updates, photos, and chats with others.

Until now.

Fox News reported on Monday that the Consumerist blog discovered a big change in Facebook's licensing agreement with consumers that had been kept quiet since February 4:
The Consumerist blog noticed Sunday that the social-networking giant had quietly made a change to its user Terms of Service (TOS) on Feb. 4.

Facebook now declares that it has a perpetual license to use anything you post to your own Facebook page — even if you terminate your account.

Here's the licensing part of the legalese, which sounds bad enough:

"You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof."

In other words, while it doesn't actually own your photos, scribblings and status updates — you do — Facebook can do whatever it wants with it, whenever it wants, in order to promote itself or create or sell ads.

Theoretically, it can even "license" a picture of your kids for use in a third party's ad campaign.

Most of that has been part of the Facebook Terms of Service for a while. After all, without user-generated content, Facebook would be nothing.

What's been removed is this: "If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however (sic) you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."

And what's been added is this: "The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service" — after which follows a list of most of the sections on the Terms of Service page.
One Facebook user has already declared he is finished with Facebook. Will others contemplate removing themselves from its social network which, according to the new licensing agreement, means their information will be forever the property of Facebook to be used at Facebook's discretion?

Kind of a scary thought.

There is running commentary going on over at the Consumerist including response from Facebook's creator.


CR UVa said...

I've noticed that many Facebook users (typically college students, as that was the initial target audience) tend to be very reactionary. Any little change to Facebook will have them flip out, and if the change appears to be bigger, their reaction grows proportionally. I think there is little reason to think this change is nothing more than what Mark Zuckerberg described.

I will, however, say that the officials at Facebook are not very good at communicating any changes made, especially those that are not superficial. Blogs can be good, if people read them. They need to figure out how to use Facebook itself to communicate such changes in plain English, to avoid these sorts of issues. For example, an in window pop-up box, or a few lines of text above the news feed, that will explain the change being made.

Facebook users can be reactionary as I noted, but Zuckerberg and his associates know this by now. If they want to keep people aboard, transparency is the best tool they may have available.

Anonymous said...

the fact that Facebook change their TOS back so quickly is an indication that they knew they were doing something wrong, or at least "a little off"