Monday, 16 February 2009

Facebook's attitude to data

Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine
Facebook updated their Terms of Service today, with an amendment that has caused a lot of people to question how worthwhile their FB profile really is. Basically what has happened is that Facebook have used one of their rights as set out in the ToS to change any term that they want to, with no warning or right of appeal. That shouldn't cause anyone any problem, as you all knew they had this right from when you read the ToS back when you signed up, right? Oh.

And the term that they have decided to change is this: it used to say

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof

but importantly it also used to add this:

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

That bit has been removed and replaced with this:

The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.

So the amendment seems to have changed things from 'we can do what we want with your data until you tell us to stop', to 'we can do what we want with your data forever and you better get used to it'. This is obviously a concern, particularly for for example for musicians who post their tunes and videos on FB - not only is any content posted automatically the property of Facebook, but this amendment removes any way of regaining it by leaving the network.

Personally I think that there is not enough use of Facebook as a creative community that this change has been made to steal and licence content, and it clearly won't be now, as artists and musicians will surely revert to networks offering fair usage terms. It does raise a question about data and the internet though. The C20th record label business has fought for ten years to continue to 'own' data that costs nothing to store or distribute, It also refers regularly to people stealing content by using P2P networks and BitTorrent, and as of today is back in court in Sweden trying to close down PirateBay for breach of copyright on a global scale.

Although on the one hand you have an out-of-date business model trying to stem the inevitable flow of data into the public domain, and on the other a behemoth of the internet
age struggling to live up to its venture capital billing, these cases are similar. If data is free and in the public domain, then anyone can use it for whatever reason. If we put a caveat on that such as 'whatever legal reason', then the record companies are in the right, as copyright is part of all [western] legal systems. If we support PirateBay, then the argument follows that Facebook can have all the pretty pictures that we have given them of our own free will and do what they want with them.

And by and large I think I agree with the second part - if we choose to hand over data rights in return for a really really easy way to share it with our friends, then we shouldn't be overconcerned about what Facebook does with it. With the very very important addition that we should also be able to ask for that right back at any point. So up till now Facebook data rights has been a fair trade - I wouldn't upload my own music on there, but I can see the cost/benefit if I did. But now it seems suspicious.

Still not sure about whether it is any worse that what we've done to record companies - however, I also don't care, as they profiteered from me and every other music f
an for 50 years (actually only about 25 for me specifically - I'm not THAT old). And that is the other important point, because at the end of the day this isn't something that is going to be ruled on by a judge or a barrister. If Facebook has gone too far here, we will be the judge. We will either use it or not use it - another bit of breaking news today showing how it can be done: the campaign against New Zealand's repressive copyright laws shows both the depth of feeling and the impact of having @stephenfry get behind your campaign. And I think that that is the difference - no-one will line up to save the record business because no-one cares. They were just a middleman. The difference is not one between data being free or owned, it is between people caring and not caring. If we care about data privacy, we will use the network that Facebook has created to make a change (as seen in Beacon), in the same way that data has fought to be free of the clutches of the record industry. If not, then it probably wasn't that important.
(Hat tips to Mashable and Stephen Fry for sources)


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