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Stealing Your Information: Facebook Does An About Face

abstract:If you haven't yet jumped on the bandwagon that is the social network revolution called Facebook, you've likely got your reasons: a stubborness toward technology or privacy issues. Well the NYT printed an article telling of the company's change in policy that has created an uproar among the Facebook community. It has caused the company to retract those changes for the meanwhile, but readers should know what they're signing on for when they create a Facebook presence and enter all that juicy information about themselves...


February 18, 2009
Mark Zukerberg creating Facebook back in Feb 2004 as an undergraduate at Harvard University. The story goes he was attempting to mimic the "hot or not" style website called Facemash that compared people's photos using his classmates "house" yearbook. Other classmates still contest there are intellectual property issues and stolen source code. Zukerberg's FB has become one of the top 10 websites with 175M active users, an estimated value of $15B, and annual revenues of $300M. The user network is supposed to rival MTV's website in demographic and traffic. It is still privately owned by Facebook Inc.

Those revenues are generated by an ad-serv relationship FB has with Microsoft - NOT from selling its users data, apparently. But things may be changing... Brian Stelter of the NYT (Feb 16, 2009) had this to say about the bruha created this week:

this Monday's "...changes to Facebook’s terms of service, had the company’s chief executive move to reassure users that the users, not the Web site, “own and control their information.”

The online exchanges reflected the uneasy and evolving balance between sharing information and retaining control over that information on the Internet. The subject arose when a consumer advocate’s blog shined an unflattering light onto the pages of legal language that many users accept without reading when they use a Web site.

The pages, called terms of service, generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users’ data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.

This month, when Facebook updated its terms, it deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Further, it added new language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated.

img src="" align="left"/>Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, said in a blog post on Monday that the philosophy “that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant.” Despite the complaints, he did not indicate the language would be revised.

The changes in the terms of service had gone mostly unnoticed until Sunday, when the blog Consumerist cited them and interpreted them to mean that “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.”

Given the widespread popularity of Facebook — by some measurements the most popular social network with 175 million active users worldwide — that claim attracted attention immediately.

The blog post by Consumerist, part of the advocacy group Consumers Union, received more than 300,000 views. Users created Facebook groups to oppose the changes. To some of the thousands who commented online, the changes meant: “Facebook owns you.”

Facebook moved swiftly to say it was not claiming to own the material that users upload. It said the terms had been updated to better reflect user behavior — for instance, to acknowledge that when a user deletes an account, any comments the user had posted on a page remain visible.

“We certainly did not — and did not intend — to create any new right or interest for Facebook in users’ data by issuing the new terms,” said Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman.

Greg Lastowka, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Law who is writing a book on Internet law, said Facebook’s language was not unusual. “Most Web sites today offer terms of service that are designed to protect and further the interests of the company writing the terms, and most people simply agree to terms without reading them.”

For Facebook, the ability to store users’ data and use their names and images for commercial purposes is important as it seeks to make more money from the virtual interactions of friends."

As of yesterday, Facebook did return to its former user policies. Their legal team is reviewing the terms and it is expected that some hybrid will be forthcoming.

Post Your Thoughts

  • Who should own your FB content: personal info, photos, comments, videos?
  • What happens to all your posts, tagged pictures, videos, etc., when you decide to "leave" FB and delete your ID?? Does it remain on other people's pages? Does it disappear?
  • If you have made info "private" instead of shared, can it be included in the rest of the FB data and mined by 3rd parties?


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