There’s been plenty of fuss over the changes to Facebook’s terms of service recently, even in yesterday’s New York Times. Trying to remember which of my friends recently tweeted “All your data are belong to us” on the topic, I searched Twitter this morning and found that dozens of people have done so in the last 24 hours.
Instead of going over the claims and counterclaims about Facebook’s intent, let’s go right to the primary document: the Facebook Terms of Service. (After all, if you’re battling them in court, it won’t carry much weight to say “but your honor, their corporate communications guy told the New York Times that what they really meant was…") The big issue this week is a sentence that was removed after the following paragraph, but I found unchanged text in the paragraph itself that scared me:
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…
I found their “import a blog” feature handy, so that what I put on bobdc.blog automatically gets published as a Facebook Note as well, thereby reaching more people. But do I want to grant Facebook a perpetual right to create derivative works from any content I post? A transferable, fully paid right, so that they can sell my content to others? I don’t think so. “Subject to [my] privacy settings” isn’t very reassuring; I’m not writing about any particularly private issues, so I don’t want distribution limited to my Facebook friends. As with the posting of my Twitter messages into my Facebook status, I found this automated importing of weblog postings to be a nice convenience, but it looks like the potential cost is too high. I’m disabling the blog import after this shows up as a Facebook note.
Why do I even bother with Facebook? Sometimes it’s a handy way to get in touch with someone whose email address changed because their DSL provider got bought out by another one, and the new one’s rebranding effort extended to changing the domain name in all the customers' email addresses. I’ve never actually “friended” anyone in Facebook, but I do accept if someone I know friends me.
Henry Story of Sun is working on some technology to allow the Building [of] Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications. I hope that work like this gets us to a point where social networking connections and features, like the web itself, are distributed among data and services that different people choose on their own terms instead of being owned by a single, privately owned corporation that reserves the right to do whatever they want with our content.
February 18 update: It looks like Facebook has not only restored the sentence that everyone worried about losing from the Terms of Service but removed the language above as well.
It’s interesting to compare Twitter’s Terms of Service, which should provide a model for all such services.