Facebook users have been all a-twitter the past couple of days about a change in the social network’s terms of service.
Facebook recently reorganized its TOS and, in doing so, changed some information pertaining to who owns the information posted on Facebook after a user terminates his or her account.
The blog The Consumerist delved deep into the new language. In a Feb. 15 post provocatively titled “Facebook’s New Terms of Service: We Can Do Anything We Want with Your Content Forever,” The Consumerist’s Chris Walters said:
“Facebook’s terms 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.“
The post ignited a firestorm among the blogging community, copyright experts and privacy advocates, as well as professional writers and photographers who had loaded their content to the site for promotion. It likely also caused alarm among people who had perhaps too blithely agreed to the TOS when they signed up for Facebook and wondered what it meant for a service to own their personal photos and status updates.
In fact, several Facebook groups formed protests, including one that urged users to change their profile pics to a black box that read “This is in protest to Facebook’s terms of service.”
The Consumerist has posted several updates to its original report, including one that includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to the controversy.
The note, which Zuckerberg posted on Facebook.com Feb. 16, reads in part:
Information Security on Social Networks
Facebook representatives have also pointed out that users’ privacy settings offer some protection: If you have set up your account to allow only your friends to see photos and other info, Facebook won’t make that information public down the road.
Whether the terms of service were clearer before or after the changes, what is clear now is that we are in uncharted territory. Communicating as a social network provider what is and isn’t OK in a binding TOS agreement-and, as a user, understanding all of it-is complicated when the culture of and applications for social networking sites are changing every day.
But, still, that doesn’t mean we should let Facebook off the hook, nor just blindly trust that the site won’t misuse our information, as Zuckerberg seems to be implying we should in his post:
“In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment.We still have work to do to communicate more clearly about these issues, and our terms are one example of this. Our philosophy that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant. A lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you. Over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.“