About two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it had revised it’s Terms of Service (ToS) to essentially say that the site owns any and all content published by users, forever. It seemed very gloom and doom and people were upset despite Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to blog about it an make things OK again. And then today Facebook decided to scrap the new ToS, opting for the previous version while they rewrite a new set.
One’s natural inclination upon hearing about the new ToS was toward anger, frustration, dismay. The idea that the site could own the content of 175 million people (which, if it were a country, would be the 6th largest in the world), just like that, is preposterous to say the least.
But from Facebook’s perspective, the idea made some sense. An example: when you send someone a message, Facebook creates a copy of the original which is then zapped off to the recipient’s inbox. Now, the site doesn’t have any legal concerns unless the sender decides to cancel his account — at which point Facebook contends it would have to delete the message in the recipient’s inbox because the owner is no longer part of the site. Presumably, deleting that e-mail is really hard so if Facebook just owned everything they could leave the e-mail while they sat around and thought of new ways to earn money from owning the world’s profiles.
Make sense? Zuckerberg wrote on the FB blog, “We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.”
But after a ton of backlash around the Web, FB changed things back, “Going forward, we’ve decided to take a new approach towards developing our terms,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We concluded that returning to our previous terms was the right thing for now. As I said yesterday, we think that a lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective so we don’t plan to leave it there for long.”
However Facebook plans to rewrite the ToS, what’s important here is that the notion of ownership is on people’s minds. We haven’t felt “worried” about the site since the days when people didn’t get jobs because a potential employer found drunk pics of a candidate online. Here again the concern is one of perceived loss of privacy, and as a result, lost money. Obviously, our profiles are worth some portion of Facebook’s valuation, and by changing the ToS, FB made that abundantly clear.
But what does that mean? How much is a foggy picture from the bar last Friday worth? Who knows. Facebook earns money from each of us collectively, but they have to pay for programmers and lawyers and soda machines and oh they have also given the world this amazing tool the likes of which has never been seen before and never will again. So, do we owe Facebook for that? In a sense, yes, because nothing in this life is free. On the other hand they owe us for the right to pimp our profiles. And we let them do it, because without FB we’d be relegated to MySpace or LinkedIn or actually spending time with our high school friend who now lives in Sri Lanka in a tent.
Bottom line: Facebook has opened up a new world of communication, and because it’s new and uncharted one’s natural inclination is to assume that his endeavor into that territory is significant. Unfortunately for us, we’re just one of 175 million wagons in the train headed west.
FB will continue to branch out into the mainstream of the Web via Connect. Companies like Buddy Media will build branded apps for the site, and sell them to their clients and laugh all the way to the bank because the vast power of this tool that was created by some nerdy college kids who just wanted drinking money. Wait, that’s the CollegeHumor crew — did you hear they have a show on MTV now?
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