February 17, 2009
Facebook's latest faux pas (or the struggle over control)

Much has been said in the past couple of days about Facebook's new Terms of Service. If for some reason you've stopped reading blogs, twitter, your friends' Facebook updates and The New York Times, here is a brief recap:

Facebook modified their terms of service; they now retain certain rights over content you host on their service forever. Yep, forever. They've phrased it as "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (to)...use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works, and distribute" material as long as it doesn't violate the privacy preferences set by the user."

Some threaten to leave the platform (following Sasha Frere-Jones' steps), some consider it a normal course of action. In any case, the internets have not stopped talking about it; and, not wanting to be left out of the picture, here are my two cents.

By signing Facebook's ToS you are agreeing to pay for the service with your content and your activity on the site. By changing their terms, Facebook just increased the price of their service. Judging by the public outcry, it was more than many users are willing to pay. I'm certainly not interested in handing FB rights to use any picture of mine for their promotional purposes. And even though they talk about not violating the user's privacy settings, it's not the same for my picture to be visible to the public than for FB to have the right to use it as they please after I've deleted my account.

Nevertheless, licensing and ownership have been confused in the midst of the polemic. And although many have proclaimed that FB owns everything you put on their site, legally they've just extended their rights, but the user is still the official owner. The question then becomes, what does ownership mean in this scenario? And how do you benefit from it?

Though not the same issue, the spirit behind this little brouhaha, seems to be the same that is behind the data portability initiatives. These discussions may moves us a step closer to that idilic situation where users actually read, understand and feel fine about the ToS that they are signing and are also capable of sharing and moving their information as they please.

What's going on today is all part of the backlash of web 2.0, a term that was all the hype a couple of years ago and today feels strangely dated. But, even though the term might be out of vogue, the practices behind it have become institutionalized, the value that consumers add to social media businesses has increased significantly, and with it, their sense of ownership has grown as well.

This is not the first or the last time that conflicts like this will arise over users' contribution to corporate operations, let us remember last year's Facebook Beacon debacle and Virgin Mobile's use of Alison Chang's photo straight out of Flickr and hope that soon some good will out of it all.


On February 18, 2009 at 10:53 AM, Joshua Green Author Profile Page said:

Hey Ana, interesting post. I thought I'd stop by to provide an update. So after first trying to explain the changes (http://techdirt.com/articles/20090217/1144233799.shtml) FB have reverted to the previous TOS for the time being: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/02/18/facebook.reversal/index.html

I think it is interesting they have approached this as a communication problem, as a case of not explaining clearly enough why they should be trusted, rather than contextualizing it as a differing of opinion (perhaps an ideological distinction?) between FB and users about the value of the content created by those using the system.


It amazes me that they would publish something like this without having it thoroughly analyzed first. Facebook is known for numerous foolish manuevers, such as the breastfeeding photos upheaval.. but this is just another stake in the coffin for them in my opinion.