Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Facebook's Fine-Print Fiasco

Facebooks Fine-Print Fiasco

It's always a good idea to pay attention to the service terms on social media sites. The importance of reading the fine print became especially clear over the President's Day weekend during a brouhaha over social network Facebook and recent changes to the terms of service users must sign digitally before joining.

Initially, users paid little heed to a move by Facebook in early February to update its terms of service, announced with a brief note on the company blog by legal representative Suzie White, who said Facebook "simplified and clarified a lot of information that applies to you." At issue is the clause that says users, by signing on, give Facebook "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license" to use, retain, and display content posted to the site. Facebook removed language saying that the license expires when a user leaves the site.

Defending the Policy

On Feb. 15, The Consumerist, a consumer blog, called attention to the changes, saying, "Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later."

Amid the ensuing uproar in the blogosphere and on Facebook's own profile pages, Facebook executives took pains to clarify the changes. A spokesman pointed out in an e-mail that the company wouldn't use information in a way that goes against the privacy settings outlined by users. For instance, it wouldn't publicly show a photo that a user wished to be shared only with friends. "Any limitations that a user puts on display of the relevant content are respected by Facebook," a company representative pointed out in an e-mail.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog entry that his company's policies are comparable to those of e-mail service providers. "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," Zuckerberg wrote. "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 e-mail work."

How Facebook Stacks Up Against Others

But how comparable are Facebook's service terms to those of other social media sites? Legal and privacy experts say Facebook is giving itself wider latitude in how it can use content than several other companies that rely on user-generated content. Retaining rights to content after the user has left is unprecedented for a social media site, says David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Licenses granted to News Corp.'s (NWS) social network MySpace, Google's (GOOG) video-sharing site YouTube, Yahoo's (YHOO) photo-sharing site Flickr, and the microblogging site Twitter "end at the time a user terminates his or her account—or within a reasonable time after termination," Ardia says. "In this regard, Facebook's new terms of use are a significant departure."

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  • 1 comment:

    vasjpan2 said...

    The Greek word for privacy is cognate with idiot. Privacy and free speach are mutually exclusive. Your deeds are public. Your voting records are so public that labor unions check your party before they help you get work. Swiss privacy laws hail from the Nazi era. all privacy is a nazi and undemocratic concept.