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Summary:

Quora is one of the few web services I actually enjoy using, mostly because of the high quality of engagement with other Silicon Valley people. But before letting me through the door today, it asked me to agree to its new terms of service.

Earlier this morning I went to check out Quora, the well-funded discussion site started by former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, who previously led Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect.

Quora is one of the few web services I actually enjoy using, mostly because of the high quality of engagement with other Silicon Valley people. But before letting me through the door today, it asked me to agree to new terms of service. Though the question-and-answer site is still in private beta, current users have been contributing their knowledge without any terms of service in place.

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A friend who pinged me later called the terms of service draconian, and I have to agree. Quora now says that it essentially owns everything you do on its service. It’s given itself the right to “use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute” any content contributed by users. (See the graphic below.)

For comparison, we decided to take a closer look at the terms of service of sites that deal with our content. According to the Blogger TOS, Google “claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services.” Automattic, the service provider behind WordPress.com (see disclosure below), outlines very clearly that:

By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. If you delete Content, Automattic will use reasonable efforts to remove it from the Website, but you acknowledge that caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.

Wikipedia ToS states:

To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to Wikimedia projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, as long as the use is attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute applies to any derivative works. Therefore, for any text you hold the copyright to, by submitting it, you agree to license it under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License 3.0 (Unported)

And Facebook, where Quora’s founders come from, tells its users that:

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.

quora.gif

So while user-generated content sites typically have fairly gnarly terms of service, Quora’s ToS goes too far.

Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

By Om Malik

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  1. Do you know of any services that claim the right to “on sell” your content? I think Threadless had it at one stage – if you create a cool t-shirt that is popular, they could license it out and not pay you diddly.
    I understand Quora are covering themselves in case a screenshot of your personal details ends up in a newspaper, but I’m interested in monetary gain from ripping off the members. Any examples? :)
    Laurel @SilkCharm

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  2. as it relates to facebook’s ToS, the excerpt you show, “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.” is somewhat misleading since they don’t let you control the set of data they label as “public” which includes your friends list.

    the CEO that replaced mark pincus at tribe networks in 2005 tried this exact approach and witnessed the wrath and upheaval of its user community. while i don’t subscribe to quora’s approach at least they’re being up front, unlike facebook’s bait & switch on privacy policies.

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  3. Direwolff, if you want to hide your friends list – Privacy Settings, Custom, then Only Me. It’s hidden!

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  4. Can’t help from paraphrasing the old internet meme “All your data are belong to us” :-)

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  5. sounds just like the proposed terms of service facebook was forced to scrap last summer… i wouldn’t comply…

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