If there is one thing that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook should know, it’s that it is probably not a good idea to irritate your millions of users. But last week, Facebook did just that with a monumental slip up.
The ever-popular, always ubiquitous Facebook silently changed their terms of service at the beginning of February, but it wasn’t until last week that the new terms were exposed by The Consumerist, a blog that was operating off a tip from a reader. Essentially, they revealed that the terms meant Facebook could utilize user content for whatever purpose it wanted, for an infinite amount of time, even if the account has been closed.
Of course, uproar from the legions of loyal Facebookers ensued with groups dedicated to opposition of the changes, the largest currently having over 138,000 members. The media response was just as epic; over 750 articles have been written about the new terms. The woes of Facebook users also appeared on various cable news stations and flooded the social messaging utility Twitter.
In a flash, Facebook reverted back to the old terms, giving the company time to re-think and re-word the changes. Creator Mark Zuckerberg even posted a note on his Facebook blog to clarify the changes in terms and assure users that they own and control all of their information.
But what exactly are the Facebook Terms of Service and why did nobody pay them much attention until now?
When you sign up for Facebook you agree to their terms of service, or you don’t get to use the social-networking site, plain and simple. Most people, myself included, don’t go through those terms with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they know what they’re agreeing to. In fact, I barely even glanced at them when I signed up four years ago. But after the upheaval caused by the change in terms, I felt closer inspection was warranted.
Turns out, there are a lot of things about Facebook that I didn’t know. While I realize that most are in place to protect the company itself, it is enough to make some uneasy. Facebook does not guarantee any privacy, and if your Facebook is hacked and information is stolen, you can’t seek retribution against the company. If a third-party application does anything unsavory with your personal data, you can’t hold Facebook responsible either. Facebook also has the ability to use your content (including pictures and notes) for anything they want, not credit you for it, and profit from it while your account is active. They can change the terms of service, without telling anyone, whenever they want, which was what they did earlier this month.
But despite all of those things, I still fancy Facebook, as do about 175 million other people. Mostly we love it because it’s fun and it allows us to keep tabs on our friends, even those who live hundreds of miles away. And I don’t believe that Facebook is without merit or value. It provides a place for users to share information and pictures with the people we know. News about campus events can be quickly spread, and the creation of groups and pages allows for a sense of community found in few other places.
While the whole controversy has left me shaking my head, I’m not going to stop using Facebook because of a change in their terms of service. The solution is simple: if you are worried about Facebook stealing your content, then you probably shouldn’t put it up there in the first place. Honestly, I don’t believe that a lot of people put extremely intellectual subject matter on their profiles for Facebook, leaving it open to theft. And as for the rest of your user content, what does Facebook really want with pictures of your last vacation or a rant about the end of your torrid love affair?