Facebook’s Terms of Service Change: A Line in The Sand

Nearly two years ago I wrote about the three big trends in social infrastructure:

Three big trends define how social infrastructure will evolve in the next few years: the opening up of communities, the battle for ownership of user data and the introduction of social economics.

Well, Facebook just drew the line in the sand in the battle for control over user data. The Web is aflame with stories about the recent change in the Terms of Service.

The short summary is that if you close your account, Facebook owns your data and can do anything it wants with it, including sub-licensing it. Imagine you are a professional photographer who uploads lots of pictures on Facebook. Oops, you just lots ownership of those pics.

There are some arguments as to why Facebook updated the ToS having to do with their ability to control how user data is shared and used across various services using Facebook Connect and other mechanisms. While this may be true, I don’t buy the blanket change to ToS as proportional. Lawyers need to go back to work and find a more precise way to eliminate reasonable risk to Facebook without essentially forcing Facebook users to lose control of their data.

What I find particularly offensive is that, from what I understand, users have no choice over the matter. Under the current terms of service, if I were to protest and close my account then they’ll own my archived data. But if I stay and close my account some years from now, well, they might own my data. Hmm……

This is an important step in the global battle for data ownership. If Facebook gets away with this, I expect to see these types of policies quickly spread through other services. I don’t expect this to happen, however. My prediction is that this will be another Facebook Beacon-type experience and another lesson to the company about the level of sensitivity and care with which a large online player must behave.

Side note: this ties to the broader issue of forced upgrades in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS (the broad set of cloud-based services). It shows how not just software companies but normal users are exposed to random, retroactive changes to ToS. Another relevant thread is changes to privacy policies–see FTC’s recent update to their behavioral targeting principles, which specifically calls out retroactive privacy policy updates.

About Simeon Simeonov

I'm an entrepreneur, hacker, angel investor and reformed VC. I am currently Founder & CTO of Swoop, a search advertising platform. Through FastIgnite I invest in and work with a few great startups to get more done with less. Learn more, follow @simeons on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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7 Responses to Facebook’s Terms of Service Change: A Line in The Sand

  1. Emil Sotirov says:

    I always thought of Facebook as being constipated (I’m not sure why)… or in other words – “anal-retentive”… This time though, their “retentive” impulse may lead to actually losing something – like users.

  2. V. Dimitroff says:

    Never had a Facebook account (for other reasons); now I am even less likely to ever give it a try – even out of academic interst (as I do with many products and services). I have willingly shared my data and traded privacy for benefits, but that has always been voluntary, not with a shotgun pointing at my head.

    If this doesn’t change (through legal action or awakening), Facebook will lose a small number of members – only the negligibly small minority of intelligent, quality people who understand what is going on and care bout their data. Already too polluted, the platform will be left with masses of brainless youths making ever louder meaningless noise, and their aunts whose ‘sensitive’ content is magazine-copied cooking recipes.

    With Quality voting with their feet, the value of the network will diminish – but not the monetization potential.The remaining audience consists of the kind of people who are more easily milked….

  3. Pingback: Solutions. Tech Consultants » Blog Archive » Big Brother facebook: Who do your pictures belong to?

  4. Pingback: Facebook returns to old ToS - for the time being « digiom by jana herwig - ein studientagebuch auf dem weg zum doktorat

  5. Pingback: Privatsphäre 2.0: Mehr Sammler sammeln intensiver mehr Daten, und auch die Wirtschaft macht mit « digiom by jana herwig - ein studientagebuch auf dem weg zum doktorat

  6. Joe says:

    hah, now i’m glad i stayed away from Facebook

  7. Facebook is more of a bastard sibling than a Big Brother. Thought ye might appreciate this image. –> http://www.tradica.com/fb1984.html

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