In your Facebook

February 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm 5 comments

imagesI made up my mind to use Facebook proactively: sharing parts of my life and work with people to whom I feel some sort of connection. This was a few months back, and since then I have not only found it useful, it has been loads of fun too. Of course it can end up being addictive and overwhelming (what with the pokes, nudges, pictures, games, comparisons and God knows what else) so one needs to be a little selective and spend only as much time as one can allocate without letting it take control of one’s life. 🙂

Before I got started with Facebook, friends had warned me about some concerns that they had with Facebook’s policies. As I began using it, I didn’t find much to complain about, in terms of obvious spamming or any kind of misuse of my posts or links. There was the odd person that I befriended who turned out to be a bit of an annoyance and so I had to wipe him off my friends list. But nothing for which I could hold Facebook responsible.

Imagine then my disappointment when the news broke a couple of days back, that Facebook had updated its Terms of Service. Now, the service appears to claim that any user’s content is irrevocably theirs, even if the user subsequently closes his/her account.

It isn’t as unsettling as it first appeared, because a lot of discussion has taken place about the kind of ownership of content a social networking site (where users intentionally upload a lot of personal materials to share among – trusted – friends as a matter of routine) ought to have. In response, the site’s managers, including its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have clarified that the modified ToS is basically to cover personal content already shared to friends’ pages, and Facebook does not intend claiming ownership of these things themselves at any time.

What a difference a few words can make! If that is all they meant, then why couch it in such unfriendly and possessive language? I don’t feel at all ashamed or regretful at being upset and annoyed by the wording when I read it. It is full of very legalese terminology, but the intent seems plainly intrusive.

Here is Zuckerberg’s explanation: “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.”

Can’t a legal expert write this out in clear and unambiguous language, if Zuckerberg can express his (service’s) intent so plainly? Why must legal language be so confusing, so often? A lawyer friend of mine (no not Zahid Jamil) told me that legal language is as wordy as it is, in order to express, not clarity, but fullness. A pity then, that Facebook’s ToS ends up expressing avarice.

Entry filed under: Posts.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JDee  |  February 18, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    They have reverted back to the old TOC for now, following the complaints. This is what I saw when I logged in today.
    Over the past few days, we have received a lot of feedback about the new terms we posted two weeks ago. Because of this response, we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised. For more information, visit the Facebook Blog.
    If you want to share your thoughts on what should be in the new terms, check out our group Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
    I think this blogpost has something to do with it. 😉

  • 2. In your Facebook / LiveFromPakistan  |  February 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    In your Facebook…

  • 3. Talha  |  February 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    They’ve revoked the TOS to the original, it comes in as a notice when you sign in facebook now. But yes, the concern is definitely note-worthy, hence – blog-able :).

  • 4. In your Facebook | Tea Break  |  February 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    […] This cup of tea was served by: In the Line of Wire […]

  • 5. Zakintosh  |  February 19, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    The problem with ‘ownership’ is that it’s a vague term. And not just oon Facebook but sites that you upload images to. Can they use those any which way they like? Can they pass/sell the rights on to others? What if it was used in a context or in a space you do not wish to be associated with?


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