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Facebook Backtracks on Its Terms Of Service

I've Been Mugged readers know that I'm no fan of Facebook. After prior privacy debacles and a class-action lawsuit, I frankly don't trust Facebook to do the right thing. Facebook's latest debacle, as documented in the company's Facebook blog:

"A couple of weeks ago, we revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users. Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised."

Clarify some parts? You gotta be kidding! It was a major bungling. Facebook backtracked after this blog post in The Consumerist:

"Facebook'sterms of service (TOS) used to say that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire. Not anymore. Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later. Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want."

I read the TOS and agree with this conclusion. Obviously, these new terms are no good for consumers and are incredibly favorable, one-sided terms for Facebook.

A coworker said that she thought that Facebook didn't have any “nefarious” intent. She thought that these issues would become more common place until a legal base line is established regarding user generated content and ownership at social media sites. The bottom line for her is that sites like Facebook need to make money; and are going to make money off consumers' content one way or another. For my coworker, common sense suggests that consumers should consider carefully what personal data they disclose at social media sites.

I disagree with my coworker. Terms don't have to be this one-sided. I would never give up my intellectual property and content rights so easily; and definitely wouldn't give them up without compensation. That's too high a price for any free service. Some have already suggested, and I would be willing to pay a monthly fee to Facebook for terms favorable to my need to maintain control of my content. Facebook makes some money and I have the control I need. That seems fair.

In the ZDNet Between the Lines blog, Sam Diaz raised an even more important reason for consumers to be upset with (or to cancel their membership) Facebook's proposed new Terms of Service:

"We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these Terms at any time without further notice. Your continued use of the Facebook Service after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new Terms."

About this sentence in the new Facebook TOS, Diaz then wrote:

"Whoa! You get to change the rules and you don’t have to tell me about it? And just because I log-in again tomorrow - just like I do at some point pretty much every day - means that I agree to the new rules you’ve put in place? How is that fair? After all, this is a social networking site that has built a huge following based on tools for communicating with other people - and you can’t “communicate” to me that you changed the rules?"

I agree. It's not just unfair, it's a bad business practice. As I wrote previously about ISPs that performed stealth targeted advertising programs and failed to notify their customers, consumer notification and opt-out are required. Notification and opt-out are just good business, and they are what consumers demand. Facebook would do well to learn from the mistakes by ISPs. For me, control of my intellectual property and content is a necessity. Facebook could easily offer its customers a choice: free service with terms favorable to Facebook, and paying customers get terms favorable to their need to totally control their content.

Last, my advice for users: be a smart and informed consumer of social media sites. This Facebook debacle should be a strong reminder for consumers to: a) read the terms of service before you register at any web site, especially social media sites, b) avoid social media sites that don't guarantee notification and opt-out mechanisms about their TOS and features, and c) avoid social media sites with one-sided terms about cntent control and ownership.


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joe malley

once again, great story george. Always remember, where there is smoke, there is fire. I believe you will be revisiting this story about the past, i mean in the future. I'm confused, are we talking about the present tense or not?


Parsing Facebook's position on its TOS:

In my opinion, the television show's hosts do a terrible job with this interview.

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