On an otherwise placid holiday weekend, one blog's commentary on a change to Facebook's terms of service created a firestorm of banter on the Web: does the social network claim ownership to any user content on the site, even if the user deletes it?
Facebook reorganized its terms of service last Wednesday. In a blog post, company legal representative Suzie White provided an explanation. "We used to have several different documents that outlined what people could and could not do on Facebook, but now we're consolidating all this information to one central place," White wrote. "We've also simplified and clarified a lot of information that applies to you, including some things you shouldn't do when using the site."
The blog post sounded benign. But the brouhaha arose on Sunday over a revision in the wording of Facebook's policy over what happens to profile content--shared items, blog post-like "notes," photos--when members delete their accounts.
Consumer advocacy blog The Consumerist phrased Facebook's fresh policy as "We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever," pointing out that Facebook's ToS spruce-up removed several sentences in which the company said its licenses on user content expired upon account deletion. And that's where the hysteria began.
"Facebook should now be called The Information Blackhole," one Consumerist commenter proclaimed. "What goes in never comes out. Be careful what you huck in there."
Truth be told, most Facebook users won't give a hoot, the same way that the flurry over the Beacon advertising program in late 2007 was fueled by a few vocal privacy advocates while the general population didn't seem to care about it one way or the other. But for advocates of copyright reform and privacy, not to mention photographers and writers who may want the photos they upload or "notes" they write on Facebook to eventually lead to some kind of profit, the news was alarming.
Some prominent Twitterers and bloggers, like New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, announced that they were deleting their Facebook accounts or pulling all uploaded content.
So Facebook issued somewhat of a clarification on Monday to explain what the change really meant.
"We are not claiming and have never claimed ownership of material that users upload," a statement from Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt read. And indeed, Facebook's terms of service do say that "User Content and Applications/Connect Sites" are exempt from its claims on content ownership.
"The new Terms were clarified to be more consistent with the behavior of the site," Schnitt's statement continued. "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)."… Read more