An About Face for Facebook

Facebook LogoLast Sunday, it became clear that some of the changes to Facebook‘s Terms of Service (ToS) enacted earlier in the month were detrimental to users’ privacy and granted the company total control over the content you share on their site.   Facebook changed the ToS to to say it owns any content you upload to the site until hell freezes over, even after you delete your profile.  This means they could reuse any of your content whenever and wherever it want. More specifically Facebook declared they have an: 

“irrevocable “perpetual” license to “use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, [and] adapt” any content you’ve ever uploaded, including the option to “use your name, likeness and image for any purpose”

What nerve! This authorizes Facebook to steal your content and violate your privacy.   So will you see that funky profile photo, that was only meant for friends,  on a Facebook ad?

This change provoked a formal federal complaint form the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) with the Federal Trade Commission over the social network’s updated licenses.

The opposition was not limited to official organizations like EPIC.  More than 38,000 Facebook user joined a group that protested the new ToS.   It turns out that Facebook users are not willing to sell their soles in order to socialize with their friends online.

By Tuesday, Facebook did an About Face, declaring that it was reverting, at least temporarily, to the old terms of service.  These old (and current) ToS aren’t particularly safeguarding users privacy either, for that matter.  It states:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing”

So how much of a change is this really? We’ll these terms clearly state that Facebook does not own your copyright.   But in copyright law, the fact they have a non-exclusive license, with all of the rights they attach to it, means virtually the same thing.

The moral of the ToS on many social networking sites is that you must vigorously protect your social reputation online.  Be careful about: what you say and the photos and videos that you upload.  What would your mom or your boss say about the information that you share with “friends” (often strangers) online?  This also applies to other social networking venues.  Most people are very careful about what they put in their LinkedIn profiles and status, because these are typically used professionally, but you may behave less “responsibly” on such sites as Facebook,  MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Stay tuned on this one, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that he wants the Facebook community to have input in the next iterations of the company’s ToS.

Meanwhile, how do YOU manage your online reputation while having fun in the various social networks in which you participate?

You may be interested in reading some of the other takes on this latest Facebook SNAFU at:

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