Afternoon InquisitionRandom AsidesSkepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 02.18.09

If you use Facebook, you might have noticed a message on your homepage indicating that Facebook has revoked a change in their Terms of Service.  I don’t know about you, but honestly, I rarely (if ever) even read the Terms of Service, so I give props to those that caught the change.

facebook-tos1The change entailed the deletion of a sentence indicating that Facebook does not own the content users upload after deletion of the account.  And that sentence was replaced with, “You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. … (H)owever, you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.”

A large number of Facebook users revolted against the change and Facebook backed down, at least temporarily.  But here’s my question:

What harm could Facebook inflict by retaining ownership of your content?**

** Note that I’m not implying that the revolt is frivolous; I just want to hear your thoughts.

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  1. I don’t read the first change as claiming any ownership rights to the deleted content; they may just be saying “we’ve got backups and we don’t guarantee that we’re going to go and delete everything you delete from all of them”. Because that would be a tremendous pain in the ass, really.

  2. I couldn’t think of a reason their policy was all that bad, then I remembered that 9/11 was an inside job, the moon landing were faked, and “the man” is trying to kill us with chem trails. So in these times people seem to read a lot more into something like this than they really should.

  3. If you posted a chapter from your latest novel before publishing you could run into copyright problems on either end.

  4. @teambanzai: “So in these times people seem to read a lot more into something like this than they really should.”

    I agree in general, but it is good to be a little paranoid. Of course I would just assume anything I put on Facebook is now in the public domain and not do it with any content I cared about. Why people would get mad Facebook for stating the obvious is a little silly.

  5. It could be that it creates the potential for problems later. Suppose whatever organization that runs Facebook does something you strongly disagree with, say, donating lots of money to a political cause you oppose. At that point, you decide you don’t want anything more to do with them, and take down your Facebook site. Except, if they have it archived, you can never be entirely dissociated with them.

    Facebook gets to define what that means for things to be in their archive. Maybe it will be searchable, and maybe the archive will persist forever (disk space is cheap, after all), and maybe Facebook will redirect broken links going in to your now non-existent site towards the archived version.

    These would all be pretty reasonable things for Facebook to do from a technical perspective, but they take away users’ ability to give Facebook the finger and take their content home.

  6. After reading the post on their blog the changes seem reasonable, I can’t imaging posting anything that Facebook might utilise agasint me personally.

    Although the thought of Facebook getting up to mischief by impersonnating 175 million people tickles me.

  7. I don’t think it was the harm that Facebook could inflict, I think it’s the harm that people in general could inflict. Someone uploads some horrible picture of you (i.e., doing something you’d never want your boss to see) and some third party gets it off of a server because Facebook never deleted it…etc. The likelihood of such things are probably slim, but I think people like to feel that when they delete something on a page they run for themselves, it’s gone and some company doesn’t get to keep it. Or when someone does something with your image that you didn’t agree to in the first place, you can get rid of it somehow.

    Basically the new TOS gave too much freedom to Facebook and I think another thing that freaked people out is that they did it with no notice (there’s also a clause that says they can make these changes without notice) which means they can essentially change the TOS to say that you have to pay them a goat every year or something and there’s nothing you can do about it because you agreed that it can change without their notifying you.

  8. I think we all just need to accept that privacy on the web is never absolute and choose whatever level of exposure we are comfortable with. For instance, I don’t use my real name online (though I don’t have any problem posting pictures) because I don’t want to worry about censoring myself for fear of being googled by a potential employer. Any content you post on Facebook is intended to be accessed by others, and you have no control over what they do with it. Then you factor in things like the wayback machine and it becomes pretty clear that once you release content into the wilds of the ‘net it can never be reliably deleted.

  9. @dysomniak: I think that’s a good point because Facebook, more than most other social networking sites, encourages (if not requires) you to use your real, full name. This makes it more likely for your personal and professional worlds to collide, which in some cases, could be unpleasant.

  10. Last year a friend of mine was cyberstalked through Facebook. She complained, and the offending account was deleted (or whatever they do to them). A few days later, the cyberstalker was back, using a different account. She had changed some things, like her email address.
    As long as the cyberstalker could access her info, she was not safe from harrassment.

  11. It sounds like people are trying to protect themselves from the inherent risks of the internet.

    I’m impressed that FB backed off but I don’t feel any less at risk from public humiliation.

  12. Facebook could sell your personal information or content to whomever they like under those proposed (but withdrawn) terms of service.
    Though I’d be interested to see what would happen if a user uploaded illegal content under these T&Cs, as it would effectively be “owned” by facebook.
    Most Web 2.0 providers go out of their way to assert that they do not own content their users upload for precisely this reason, so these could have been a two edged sword for Facebook.

  13. Honestly, I think its a CYA move. I’ve got a possible scenerio…

    Bob goes to Middle of Nowhere High School, and he wants to leave shoot’em up style. He facebooks it. Pics of him with big, scary guns. But, Joe, in Of the Beaten Path High School does it first, Bob is going to realize that the school officials are going start checking facebook, myspace, and the other SN sites. He pulls his stuff, replacing it with rainbows and unicorns. Well, Al, in homeroom saw it before it was pulled, and reports it. The school officials can contact Facebook, and with Facebook retaining copies of deleted information, can use Web 2.0 to prevent School Shooting 2.0.

    …or so the theory goes. The simple fact is that on the internet, it is safe to assume that anything you post can and will be used against you in a court of public opinion.

  14. I never did like Facebook,and now I’ve lost one excuse not to sign up! Still, we now know what they’re capable of, and that knowledge should come in handy for when my friends try and get me to view their holiday snaps. There’s a lesson to be learned here: if you want the copyright, host it yourself.

    I love Twitter though, it’s like Facebook without all the bits I don’t like. I hope Twitter never try and hit us with any of this copyright malarkey.

  15. I have photos of my jewelry and artwork up on Facebook. This is how I make my living, some company like facebook coming in and saying if I upload pics of my work they own them violates my copyright on my creations. Since my work is jewelry and sculpture not 2d artwork that makes nice prints it’s not as big a worry for me but painters and photographers were horrified by what facebook did.

  16. @Noadi: That’s a good point that I hadn’t considered. Some people do use Facebook for business networking, and if your business involves visual art, that could definitely be a problem.

  17. @Noadi:
    Could you point out where the new TOS gave them ownership of content you post? The terms that I read just said they may keep a copy of content you post after it (or your account) is deleted.

  18. To everyone with the “blame the victim” attitude (you should know better than to put etc etc on the internet): it’s a bit hypocritical to say that if you’ve ever said, for example, that homeopathy is a predatory fraud.

  19. That’s partly my point, Kimbo. My friend only posted the stuff you have to put up to register. The cyberstalker was circumventing security blocks. The only way she could stop it was to leave Facebook.

  20. There’s a difference between owning a copy and owning the content. When you purchase a DVD, you own the physical DVD, but of course you don’t actually have any ownership of the movie; the studio retains that.

    IANAL, but this sounds like the same thing: they have ownership of the JPEG you upload, but not of the original nor the content it represents.

  21. @shanek & dysomniac
    Of course it doesn’t allow Facebook to suck the Intellectual property out of your brain, nor bar your use of it. However the proposed T&Cs went further than just retaining a copy for prosperity. (I pulled the offending paragraph from as it is getting hard to find since the retraction. If it’s wrong I blame my sources :P)

    “You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

    That is pretty extensive, and much more than just owning a copy of your .jpeg or blog post. Try doing any of that with a DVD you have brought and you could find yourself in some strife…

  22. Oh, come on, fnord, think about it—Facebook has to do those things just to operate its site!

    Use: obvious. Copy: likewise. Publish: it is a website, after all. Stream: ditto. Store, retain: obvious again. Publicly perform or display, transmit: it’s a website, duh. Scan: I don’t know how that applies to digital media, unless they mean in the process of reformatting. Reformat, modify, edit, frame: needed to do things like make thumbnails of pictures. Translate: it is a multinational site, after all. Excerpt: like it does on your profile…

    Oh, I’m bored with it…you get the idea. You people are making a big deal over nothing.

  23. @Shanek
    Of course some rights to the material are needed to operate the site, there is no debate about that. But the irrevocable nature of the license is what I think is worrying people, as it gives no way for a user to revoke those rights once they ceased doing business with Facebook.

  24. In the not to distant future, thanks to this rule, Facebook begins to kill off users so they can sell they’re content to advertisers.

  25. Considering its the users that keep Facebook going, if they disagree with the TOS, they have every right to make that known. And Facebook can either decide (as a private company) to continue on as they are, or make the changes to make the users happy. Seems to me there was enough of a revolt that they are at least considering making some changes.

    I myself don’t have a problem with the TOS; to be honest I assume all private social networking sites have similar TOSes. Don’t put something on the ‘net you don’t want others to have. Still, I can see why people are pissed, and hey, if they can make the change, I say more power to them.

    Facebook doesn’t HAVE to listen, but seeing as the users are kind of the backbone of their whole existant…they might want to. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

  26. They would own my pictures thus they would own my soul. I would be sucked into a cyberverse and spend eternity dusting a series of 00000011010101010101010101010111101010010101011000101.

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