POPULAR SOCIAL NETWORKING service Facebook last week released a new version of its terms of service – that led to a mass exodus of users who had a problem with the changes. Facebook soon reverted to an older version of the terms in dealing with the outcry. But what was it that put people’s backs up?
Paul Jacobson, an expert on new media law at Jacobson Attorneys, says: “The changes were subtle but profound. The newer, controversial terms included linked content that existed outside Facebook under its definition of the word ‘post’. Essentially, Facebook was trying to take licences over content that existed outside its system – which is problematic, since the users posting that content have no authority to grant licensing over it. I don’t think it was even legally competent – but they were having a go at it anyway.
“Also, in the older – now current – version of the terms Facebook said it would terminate licences it held over your content if you cancelled your account, although it does retain a copy of your content. In the controversial terms Facebook changed that so licences would survive termination, essentially allowing it to do what it wanted with your content – even after you cancelled your account. With the new terms, Facebook would have been allowed to do pretty much whatever it wanted with your content.”
“Facebook has said it will always respect your privacy settings,” although he agrees most users don’t know that privacy settings exist in its service and don’t use them, making their content publicly available instead of limited to just being viewed by friends.
Google and other online services all have similar terms granting them licences to do whatever they want with your digital usage. And nobody reads them. Although the intention is usually to indemnify the Facebooks of the world in the event of any legal questions raised about their service – they aren’t malevolent. “Facebook’s intention is probably not to misuse your content,” says Jacobson.
The bottom line is: know what you’re getting into instead of just clicking on ‘I agree’.