Facebook terms: “All your content are belong to us”

There has been some consternation in the press and blogosphere about recent changes to Facebook’s terms of use.

The crux of the issue is that Facebook, though its terms of use, wrests from you control over the use of any content that you post. Facebook also claims license over any third-party content posted to the site via the API or through a bookmark link from external websites.

In response to the outcry, Mark Zuckerberg posted a defence of the conditions on the Facebook blog. Here are some selected quotes:

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

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.

This is a slightly extended version of the comment I posted to the blog in response (comments don’t seem to be displayed anywhere so I can’t link it).

First of all, I don’t “place my trust in Facebook” – I know you’re only interested in preserving user rights and privacy to the extent that this aligns with maximising shareholder value. I tolerate Facebook only because so many of my friends and relatives use it that to do otherwise would be to alienate myself. It’s a compromise I was comfortable with until you changed your terms and conditions.

There is a difference between a license to display content to other users (necessary to make the site work) and a license that allows Facebook to exploit user-generated content for its own benefit. It’s the latter that I object to.

Your comparison with email doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. There is no monopoly on the email distribution channel and anyone may access the system from their service provider of choice. No email company would dare use the contents of someone’s inbox in their advertising!

You say that you have never claimed to “take ownership” of user content, but why would you need to when you instead take such a broad license that you can do anything you like with our content, with our without our consent? You might not own the content but you can act as if you do.

You should compare your terms and conditions with those of other social networking sites. Places such as Flickr and YouTube grant themselves fewer and more clearly delimited rights. Their legal teams seem comfortable with this – why isn’t yours?

If you’re concerned about the new Terms of Use, take action:

  • Join this Facebook protest group
  • Leave a comment on the Facebook blog expressing your concerns.
  • Write a note like this one on your Facebook profile to warn your friends
  • Remove from your Facebook profile any third-party applications that post content on your behalf and stop using “post to facebook” links on other people’s sites.
  • Don’t post anything to Facebook that you wouldn’t be happy seeing splashed across a 40′ billboard in your home town (you don’t do this anyway, right?)

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