Facebook has enraged users by subtly changing its terms of service. From now on, even if you close your account, the American company reserves the right to use any of the content you've uploaded. In other words, even if you decide to "deactivate account", Facebook could still, in theory, go ahead and splash your face across billboards around the world.
UPDATE (18 Feb.09 - 11am Paris time): following the public reaction Facebook has now returned to its original terms of service. The site's team has even set up a group where users can discuss the text.
Flickr user "cogdogblog" suggests using the Creative Commons License.
In response to the outcry Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had come up with a lengthy explanation on his blog. According to him, the alterations to the terms of service were put in place to protect Facebook from potential legal proceedings. He clarified that Facebook could not delete the content posted by users once they delete their account because it also belonged to the profile pages/ inboxes of their friends. He assured users that by placing trust in the company, they "wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want". But not everyone was reassured. According to various specialists, the change simply meant that Facebook held full rights over your stuff, forever.
"A matter of Facebook not communicating properly with their members"
For me it was much more a matter of Facebook not communicating properly with their members - again. Is it too much to ask for a notification or an email stating that they have changed their TOS, why they did it and what benefits the changes would bring to their members? Does Facebook actually think every member reads their blog? So much of what has happened the last two days could have been avoided if they had told us directly what they were up to. Makes me wonder if they learnt anything at all from the Beacon episode [December 2007].
Facebook is like a big black box for me, where no one really knows what happens to the content after it is posted, or let alone what might happen to it a few years from now. I'm not the only member who wouldn't be surprised if Facebook sold one of my images in the future.
My advice on using Facebook:
As a general rule of thumb I can only advise people to use the privacy settings in Facebook. You can for instance control what stories about yourself get published on your profile, on your friends' news feeds and on the applications you use. Maybe you should think about sharing your pictures only with your friends instead of with your whole network and friends' friends too. Look up the Data Portability Project; they're trying to focus on some of the shortcomings on how we share content on the Web today ."
"Even if you change your privacy settings, you’ve got no way of protecting your photos"
Austin O'Flynn is a San Francisco lawyer specialised in new technologies.I advise various websites on their terms of service and I can say that Facebook has really gone too far here. There are two main problems with their text.
- First, Facebook says that you own the photos that you publish. However, by publishing them, you give Facebook the right to use them for commercial means. Even if you change your privacy settings, there's no way of getting round that. Facebook can even grant another company the right to use your images. For example, they could sell a photo of you to a car salesman for a poster.
- Secondly, even if you close your account, Facebook reserves the right to use any of the content you've published on the site. Zuckerberg says that this is only so that stuff you've posted on friends' pages doesn't get deleted. But again, there's nothing stopping Facebook from selling your stuff to other companies, even if you're no longer a member!
My advice on using Facebook:
- Change your privacy settings so that only your friends can see your photos and personal information. A lot of people opened their FB account a long time ago, when this option didn't exist.
- Like I have, put this short text in the ‘write something about yourself' box below your profile pic:
By putting this we're saying that we don't want Facebook to give other companies rights to our stuff. My material shouldn't be visible to anyone in my privacy settings [anyone who's not my friend]. I understand that Facebook has to make money and advertise on my page, but I won't accept for it to allow other companies to use my texts and my photos."