User data ownership on Facebook and why it doesn’t matter

Geesh, everyone got their panties in a bunch over the weekend due to Facebook’s new terms of service.

Truth is it doesn’t matter.

If you are uploading your content to, and participating online with, you are giving a HUGE amount of ownership to services that, well, you really don’t control.

They can go out of business. They can delete your account. They can make money off of your content. They probably all have wacky stuff in their terms of services.

This is true for Flickr. For YouTube. For Twitter. For Facebook. For all of them.

I’ve been yelling and screaming about how Facebook has been treating its customers for a year now. Facebook already showed how they treat you by the way they delete accounts: they have complete control and you have none.

Deal with it! Me? I dealt with it by putting all my photos into the public domain when I upload them to Flickr.

I dealt with it by having Fast Company own its own servers and content. It’s a real pain, too, takes me a lot longer to upload my videos to FastCompany.tv than it does to upload them to TubeMogul. But then we have control and we know when ads will be put on top of our content, etc.

So, relax, have fun, just realize you’re here to serve Facebook, not necessarily the other way around.

UPDATE: There’s an interesting conversation going on about this over on friendfeed, including links to a comparison of several TOS’s of several user generated content sites.

162 thoughts on “User data ownership on Facebook and why it doesn’t matter

  1. and I wonder now why more days to come facebook turn into such a bad boy,after the sued ,after the plagiarized stealing idea ,why facebook still thinking that he is such a charming site for many peoples to gather around and make some fun with there friend with.?why it such a rule in which he just cant just let us go to be free.do you think this what they do to impress google so that google buy them immediately?

  2. and I wonder now why more days to come facebook turn into such a bad boy,after the sued ,after the plagiarized stealing idea ,why facebook still thinking that he is such a charming site for many peoples to gather around and make some fun with there friend with.?why it such a rule in which he just cant just let us go to be free.do you think this what they do to impress google so that google buy them immediately?

  3. FB’s business model is advertising, hence their need to control user data. If FB changed their business model to a simple utility model where a fee (mandatory or voluntary) is assessed for their service with feature-based pricing (much like US cable system where its main function is connectivity), they will not have to claim rights to user data. Of course, their ridiculous valuation will suffer.

  4. FB’s business model is advertising, hence their need to control user data. If FB changed their business model to a simple utility model where a fee (mandatory or voluntary) is assessed for their service with feature-based pricing (much like US cable system where its main function is connectivity), they will not have to claim rights to user data. Of course, their ridiculous valuation will suffer.

  5. I’m not concerned about material getting into the public domain – I’m concerned about a large & well funded corporation claiming rights to material in the public domain – the risk being that at some point down the line they search for the same images or text & sue me for royalties to use my own material!

  6. I’m not concerned about material getting into the public domain – I’m concerned about a large & well funded corporation claiming rights to material in the public domain – the risk being that at some point down the line they search for the same images or text & sue me for royalties to use my own material!

  7. i can only speak for myself, but i reacted strongly only because i think i had been obliviously not thinking about it. fingers in ears “lalalalalalalala”. and then with all of the press/blog coverage i went “oh!”

    naive. yes. over-reaction. yes.

    but still helpful, since it changed my perspective.

  8. i can only speak for myself, but i reacted strongly only because i think i had been obliviously not thinking about it. fingers in ears “lalalalalalalala”. and then with all of the press/blog coverage i went “oh!”

    naive. yes. over-reaction. yes.

    but still helpful, since it changed my perspective.

  9. Professional and Amateur photographers beware. If you don’t want the licensing or use of your content compromised, never share it on Facebook or another public domain sharing site. Protect yourself, photos, and your subjects.

  10. Professional and Amateur photographers beware. If you don’t want the licensing or use of your content compromised, never share it on Facebook or another public domain sharing site. Protect yourself, photos, and your subjects.

  11. I agree that facebook is a business and we are using their services at the expense of the content and information we put up there. However, you can’t just change the ToS and not say anything about it, especially when it involves privacy matters.

  12. I agree that facebook is a business and we are using their services at the expense of the content and information we put up there. However, you can’t just change the ToS and not say anything about it, especially when it involves privacy matters.

  13. Yup, I can tell with 25 years of IT tech and busines experience, that everything you ever typed on the Internet is stored somwhere -or several places- and that you cannot “clean it up” nor “control it”. That’s the sole purpose of DARPA’s invention (not Al Gore’s).

    Remember when you were told to watch what you say? Well, now watch what you type.

    AndrewLindsey.wordpress.com

  14. Yup, I can tell with 25 years of IT tech and busines experience, that everything you ever typed on the Internet is stored somwhere -or several places- and that you cannot “clean it up” nor “control it”. That’s the sole purpose of DARPA’s invention (not Al Gore’s).

    Remember when you were told to watch what you say? Well, now watch what you type.

    AndrewLindsey.wordpress.com

  15. When you make your photos public you do it because you either want to help others or you want to help enrich the site and that too helps others.
    The problem with FB’s rules was they owned your photos even if the photos were private. And when you leave the site, FB has the right to use those private photos.
    FB changed its TOS again but I don’t think M. Zuckerburg had the intention of doing something wrong.

  16. When you make your photos public you do it because you either want to help others or you want to help enrich the site and that too helps others.
    The problem with FB’s rules was they owned your photos even if the photos were private. And when you leave the site, FB has the right to use those private photos.
    FB changed its TOS again but I don’t think M. Zuckerburg had the intention of doing something wrong.

  17. Facebook has now returned to its previous terms of use based on user response. Goes against your justification, robert. It does matter to facebook :-)

  18. Facebook has now returned to its previous terms of use based on user response. Goes against your justification, robert. It does matter to facebook :-)

  19. Hi Robert,
    It’s your long-time buddy Allen Harkleroad. Since 1998 I and my company have self-hosted and owned our own network/IP addressing space. I never have liked most 3rd party services that tend to end up monetizing their users content. Owning your own servers make a lot of sense.

    Allen

  20. Hi Robert,
    It’s your long-time buddy Allen Harkleroad. Since 1998 I and my company have self-hosted and owned our own network/IP addressing space. I never have liked most 3rd party services that tend to end up monetizing their users content. Owning your own servers make a lot of sense.

    Allen

  21. Nice statement I found on my Facebook page this morning -

    >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.

    How many new members do you think that group’s going to get today?!?!

  22. Nice statement I found on my Facebook page this morning -

    >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.

    How many new members do you think that group’s going to get today?!?!

  23. While you were sleeping: Some people cared and Facebook revised their TOS to the old ones (they are working on a new version): http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-revises-back-to-original-terms/
    Zuckerberg said “More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. Our terms aren’t just a document that protect our rights; it’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world. Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service. “

  24. While you were sleeping: Some people cared and Facebook revised their TOS to the old ones (they are working on a new version): http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-revises-back-to-original-terms/
    Zuckerberg said “More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. Our terms aren’t just a document that protect our rights; it’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world. Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service. “

  25. Robert,

    Yes, yes and yes. I have been posting essentially what you wrote here in EVERY Facebook thread I have seen. Facebook + MySpace = the new walled gardens.

    I think I figured it out though. Here it is:
    These tech bloggers can’t figure out what to write on. Therefore any shred of news, no matter how obvious or insigificant is magnified ten fold. It hits page 1 of digg. The top bloggers go nuts over it. Everyone debates. The discussion is pointless.

    Come on guys, we’re smarter than this. Thanks for posting Scoble, you saved me the effort.

  26. Robert,

    Yes, yes and yes. I have been posting essentially what you wrote here in EVERY Facebook thread I have seen. Facebook + MySpace = the new walled gardens.

    I think I figured it out though. Here it is:
    These tech bloggers can’t figure out what to write on. Therefore any shred of news, no matter how obvious or insigificant is magnified ten fold. It hits page 1 of digg. The top bloggers go nuts over it. Everyone debates. The discussion is pointless.

    Come on guys, we’re smarter than this. Thanks for posting Scoble, you saved me the effort.

  27. Robert, I basically agree with you that this isn’t shocking since Facebook hasn’t respected user’s much; however, I do think ascerting ownership to data already in the system crosses the line. In that vein, I wrote “User-beware of Facebook”

    This is similar to the Google Reader shared feed issue that Steve Gillmor railed on for a while.

  28. Robert, I basically agree with you that this isn’t shocking since Facebook hasn’t respected user’s much; however, I do think ascerting ownership to data already in the system crosses the line. In that vein, I wrote “User-beware of Facebook”

    This is similar to the Google Reader shared feed issue that Steve Gillmor railed on for a while.

  29. Each asset has to be accorded its own rights vetting determination, just because someone uploads something, it doesn’t automatically stand that they had the authority from the point of origin.

    It matters.

  30. Each asset has to be accorded its own rights vetting determination, just because someone uploads something, it doesn’t automatically stand that they had the authority from the point of origin.

    It matters.

  31. This is why we developed Glynx.

    Glynx (www.glynx.com) is a new social communication platform that works peer-to-peer and affords its users true privacy and control.

    For example, once we connect in Glynx, my address book is updated with your contact details as they may change in real time – without any third party observing my details, your details or our online relationship.

    Kind of like Plaxo meets Skype.

    Glynx doesn’t even see your info – so there’s no debate about what we do with it.

  32. This is why we developed Glynx.

    Glynx (www.glynx.com) is a new social communication platform that works peer-to-peer and affords its users true privacy and control.

    For example, once we connect in Glynx, my address book is updated with your contact details as they may change in real time – without any third party observing my details, your details or our online relationship.

    Kind of like Plaxo meets Skype.

    Glynx doesn’t even see your info – so there’s no debate about what we do with it.

  33. I am continually perplexed by your stance on issues such as this. Your needs and use of social media sites are not one size fits all and your approach of guiding others to do the same of giving everything away for free is troubling. If it were so simple FastCompany wouldn’t be so concerned about protecting the work you do for them. Individuals who strive to leverage social media to make a name for themselves, market and pick up clients as a sole proprietorship or LLC suffer from such a blanket recommendation. If rights and protections matter so little to you then I’m sure you don’t mind the government taking away your rights next. I just scratch my head at such logic. Facebook needs to have a ToU that allows them to safely do business, but the notion of forcing expansive terms beyond what they need on users and stating, “Trust us. We’ll do the right thing.” is unrealistic. The ToU should be written as they intend to use them and they should be interpreted as though what is written is how they’ll use them. This is what the courts will do and it is certainly how any future disagreements will be resolved. Rolling over and stating “Truth is it doesn’t matter” is irresponsible.

  34. I am continually perplexed by your stance on issues such as this. Your needs and use of social media sites are not one size fits all and your approach of guiding others to do the same of giving everything away for free is troubling. If it were so simple FastCompany wouldn’t be so concerned about protecting the work you do for them. Individuals who strive to leverage social media to make a name for themselves, market and pick up clients as a sole proprietorship or LLC suffer from such a blanket recommendation. If rights and protections matter so little to you then I’m sure you don’t mind the government taking away your rights next. I just scratch my head at such logic. Facebook needs to have a ToU that allows them to safely do business, but the notion of forcing expansive terms beyond what they need on users and stating, “Trust us. We’ll do the right thing.” is unrealistic. The ToU should be written as they intend to use them and they should be interpreted as though what is written is how they’ll use them. This is what the courts will do and it is certainly how any future disagreements will be resolved. Rolling over and stating “Truth is it doesn’t matter” is irresponsible.

  35. Call me foolish, but I do not believe that FB is going to sell your content (which would be ridiculous) , or is going to use your content in a way which you would not expect. The TOS are there to protect FB against all sorts of possible lawsuits, which could arise by some sort of miss-use by third parties. I’m from Switzerland, where this TOS debate is also big news. This evening a big TV News Show reported about this issue. They added arbitrary FB User uploaded photos to their report. I guess they didn’t ask FB nor the users/owners of the pictures whether they might use them. I think this is exactly one of the reason’s why the FB TOS are verbalized in a way that you never can sue FB for such a case.

  36. Call me foolish, but I do not believe that FB is going to sell your content (which would be ridiculous) , or is going to use your content in a way which you would not expect. The TOS are there to protect FB against all sorts of possible lawsuits, which could arise by some sort of miss-use by third parties. I’m from Switzerland, where this TOS debate is also big news. This evening a big TV News Show reported about this issue. They added arbitrary FB User uploaded photos to their report. I guess they didn’t ask FB nor the users/owners of the pictures whether they might use them. I think this is exactly one of the reason’s why the FB TOS are verbalized in a way that you never can sue FB for such a case.

  37. We agree with you Scobleizer. Why is everyone getting their “knickers in a knot?” If you use an intermediation service of course they observe and control what you send them.
    If you want privacy use a P2P application instead of web 2.0.

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