Blog Post

The Status Of Facebook’s Terms Of Service? ‘It’s Complicated’

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Following a much-discussed change in Facebook’s terms of service, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the company blog Monday in an effort to dispel concerns about who owns what when it comes to user data: “Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information.”

Baseline: When someone leaves the social net, their own copies of data disappear but anything they’ve sent someone else lingers on, like the grin from the Cheshire Cat, whether they want it to or not. As Consumerist explained, Facebook took out some language from the terms that made it sound like users could expunge everything having to do with their accounts.

More after the jump

Zuckerberg admits the social net’s way of explaining this is far from simple: “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.” (The company also could make it more obvious — as a Facebook user, I may have acknowledged a change at some point since the terms changed on Feb. 4 but I honestly don’t remember it.)

In the meantime, he wants users to take it all on trust — trust that if Facebook has the rights to use your data in perpetuity, they will not abuse it. This becomes a little harder to take if you’ve watched what happens to the accounts of people Facebook thinks run afoul of its terms — even when that may not be the case: their accounts simply disappear without the person who posted or accumulated that shared info being able to even make a copy. Zuckerberg doesn’t refer to that issue but says the tension between information control and data portability are the root of some problems: “People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them

4 Responses to “The Status Of Facebook’s Terms Of Service? ‘It’s Complicated’”

  1. With billions of dollars in their hands, Facebook has a huge team of lawyers that created their Terms of Service. With that many eyes and that much money, the change to the TOS was not a mere oversight. It was intentional wording to legalize the theft and later sale of my information. I understand that information placed out on the web quickly gets beyond your ability to contain it, but you should, at the very least, be able to delete forever the content that you placed on Facebook itself.

    I use Microsoft Word to create my documents, but this does not give Microsoft ownership over my documents nor does it give Microsoft the right to sell my documents.

    Afraid of shadows? Hardly. Only a fool would trust a corporation to do the right thing. When your face appears in an Erectile Dysfunction or Genital Warts advertisement or when parts of your diary are used to supplement a pedophilia catalog, then you will have outrage…but it will be far too late for you to do anything about it.

    The time to avoid drinking the koolaid is BEFORE you drink it. Real life doesn't have a rewind button.

  2. Personally, this is much ado about nothing. There is a big snail trail you create when you participate in social networks that is interlinked with topics and users. If you quit the community it is unreasonable to assume that that substrate and all of the interconnects magically disappear, as that would adversely impact alot of the contexts, content and conversational ties.

    I get it. People in the abstract "feel" that this is their content but when you plug your ingredients into community soup, much (but not all of this) is a one way trip. By contrast, all of your snail trails on the internet become searchable for eternity, and you don't hear clammers on Google doing evil, even though they monetize these snail trails to the tune of billions of dollars.

    The counter is that Facebook has made some past missteps, people feel like owners more so in social nets than web site sludge and their is a greater understanding of how Google makes coin than how Facebook does or will so it's the proverbial shadows versus light.

    We are scared of the shadows.


  3. Let's face it, this is new territory for everyone, especially a business at the scale of Facebook. I think this terms of service has a lot more to do with the lawyers than anything else — it's about managing the risks associated with all that ugc.

    But clearly, we expect more from a business like Facebook than the typical, age-old lawyering nonsense. Time to step up the game, boys, and hire some lawyers who can actually write a contract, not just regurgitate the same old crap.

  4. Facebook and Twitter are closed source content silos that do not allow members to control the content that they create and own.

    One of the reasons for this is obvious. Selling Member created content is one of the only ways that they can generate revenue. If members actually controlled and owned the content they created,then members would have the ability to demand transparency from Facebook when it came to selling or sharing their content.