Egg on Its Facebook

egg_on_faceGive Facebook credit for quickly reversing itself on the insane changes it recently made to its terms of service policy. Hopefully the company has finally learned its lesson about not arbitrarily making policy changes in a vacuum.

I’ll admit I wasn’t following the story closely until I got a call from journalist David Needle yesterday asking for comment.  I wasn’t online at the time, and when David described the new terms of service I said they were crazy.  No online community would impose a policy that effectively gave it the right to steal intellectual property from its members.

So I was stunned when I returned to my office and actually looked at the terms.  I’m not a lawyer, but it was pretty easy to figure out what Facebook was doing.  In essence, anything a member posted on Facebook became the property of Facebook, which could use that content in any way it wanted, including changing it, combining with other content and even selling it.

This had personal relevance to me, because many authors and artists now develop their work in public forums, post it online and ask for input from their audience.  Under the revised Facebook policy, someone doing this would give up ownership of that intellectual property the minute it appeared on the site.

I don’t think for a moment that Facebook intended to abuse the terms of service or to steal anything from anyone.  This was a boneheaded decision by someone who thought that since the terms were being changed anyway, Facebook might as well ask for the sun, moon and stars.

Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to explain the policy made no sense.  While his blog entry did a good job of clarifying Facebook’s intent, it didn’t explain why such heavy-handed language was needed, nor did it express any second thoughts about the changes.

This is the second time Facebook has had to withdraw a feature change amid heavy criticism.  Last year it was the ill-considered Beacon social shopping service. The company has created a bill of rights and responsibilities group and asked people to contribute their thoughts..  Let’s hope it listens this time.

0 thoughts on “Egg on Its Facebook

  1. Paul,

    I was quite surprised to see a note on my FB homepage this morning with a retraction of their terms. Suggestion to Facebook would be to chat with an Intellectual Property Lawyer prior to drafting terms that discuss property, another case where poor planning and strength in implementation can hang a company. It was also interesting to see how many people then removed their profile pictures and other pictures!

    Thanks for the egg-on-face post!

  2. Like you, I was stunned when I heard about FB’s new TOS. I am baffled that a social networking company could be so out of touch with its members that they did not anticipate such a backlash. After all, isn’t that what social marketing and networking is all about – knowing and respecting the people that you have relationship with?

  3. Facebook is not alone. As someone who reads terms of service and privacy policies before subscribing, I’ve opted out of a lot of the social networking applications. I find that many of their policies either infer that any information that I give them they will give others–or that they can use my content as they wish. When I’ve raised this issue in public forums, others have said that they’ve long since given up on privacy–or they feel that the benefits of these applications outweigh the costs. My hope is that the publicity Facebook’s terms of service policy is getting will cause more people to read terms of services and privacy policies carefully–and after so doing pressure more applications vendors to truly protect people’s privacy and IP.

  4. Paul,

    The Facebook example is one that demonstrates just how fragile and infirm these social and new media models can be. Rumors go around instantaneously and a bad rumor can bring something to its knees in minutes.

    Alied to this is the monetization piece. Sure, newspapers are going to the few-day model, or stopping publication along with magazines. But the emerging new media have to have a revenue model that is acceptable for their success.

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