Monday, February 16, 2009

Facebook TOS Response

I signed into Twitter today and came across Professor State's link of an article about Facebook's TOS (Terms of Service). If you didn't happen to come across it on Twitter I'll repost it here on our blog( I hope you don't mind, Professor :] ).

"Facebook's New Terms Of Service: "We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever."
By Chris Walters, 6:14 PM on Sun Feb 15 2009,

Facebook's terms of service (TOS) used to say that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire. Not anymore.

Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.* Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want.

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 or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

That language is the same as in the old TOS, but there was an important couple of lines at the end of that section that have been removed:

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

Furthermore, the "Termination" section near the end of the TOS states:

The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.

Make sure you never upload anything you don't feel comfortable giving away forever, because it's Facebook's now.

(Note that as several readers have pointed out, this seems to be subject to your privacy settings, so anything you've protected from full public view doesn't seem to be usable in other ways regardless.)

Oh, you also agree to arbitration, naturally. Have fun with that.

Update: Several Facebook groups have formed to protest the new TOS:
"People Against the new Terms of Service (TOS)"
"FACEBOOK OWNS YOU: Protest the New Changes to the TOS!"
"Those against Facebook's new TOS!"

Update 2: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has posted a response on the Facebook blog. A crude summary: "trust us, we're not doing this to profit from you, it's so we are legally protected as we enable you to share content with other users and services." His point, I think, is that there are interesting issues of ownership and rights clearance when you're dealing with content shared in a social network:

Still, the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them-like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on-to other services and grant those services access to those people's information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

Update 3: I just found this clarification posted earlier this afternoon on The Industry Standard. It was emailed to them by a Facebook representative and seems to confirm that your privacy settings trump all else:

We are not claiming and have never claimed ownership of material that users upload. The new Terms were clarified to be more consistent with the behavior of the site. That is, if you send a message to another user (or post to their wall, etc...), that content might not be removed by Facebook if you delete your account (but can be deleted by your friend). Furthermore, it is important to note that this license is made subject to the user's privacy settings. So any limitations that a user puts on display of the relevant content (e.g. To specific friends) are respected by Facebook. Also, the license only allows us to use the info "in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof." Users generally expect and understand this behavior as it has been a common practice for web services since the advent of webmail. For example, if you send a message to a friend on a webmail service, that service will not delete that message from your friend's inbox if you delete your account."

I've read people's responses to this post and they completely varied. Some people jokingly (?!) say that they just want to use the photos you posted on facebook against you 20 years from now. I personally don't know how to feel about it. I can't seem to see in year 2100, Facebook intentionally desiring to use the pictures I posted when I was twenty-years-old.Open of the responses from a user OrtensiaCadmium posted the following logical explaination: "That's fairly common language in terms for various sites such as Facebook. While it gives Facebook some far-reaching and scary possibilities, the basic idea is that things you upload may end up residing on servers outside of Facebook's direct control. These broad rights make it so that you can't sue Facebook for some cached content on some other server, but yes, it also means they can sell your photos or use them in advertising with no recompense to you." I must agree with OrtensiaCadmium however I might become a little cautious with what I say. It never hurt anybody, right?


  1. Thank god they changed the Terms back to the old ones! The fact that Facebook could use some of my photos really made me think about everything I have up... especially since our entire generation uses Facebook. The idea of a picture of me being a dumb college kid coming back to haunt me later in life is not something I want to happen.

  2. The new terms were insane! I could not believe that they even tried to do that! Oh well, at least they are back for now, but we need to be careful...

  3. Great post, Agata, and of course I don't mind you working off of my tweet. As for the ToS, it's good that they backed down, but the old ToS were not all that great to begin with. In the end, I find it hard to believe that any of this is enforceable, but legal action can always be used to harass, especially given the expense of hiring lawyers, and there's a matter of principle here. The old cyberspace ethic of "information just wants to be free" comes into conflict with the corporate interests in an ongoing battle for control.