Facebook Fans The Flames Of Its TOS Change Overreaction

from the guilty-conscience? dept

Some Facebook users are in an uproar after the site changed its terms of service to say that it retains a license to users’ content after they delete their account. As the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, explains, this change simply clarifies the point that actions on Facebook can create two copies of content. He says that when users add a friend or send a message, for instance, it generates two copies of the action: one for the user on each side. So say a user sends a message to a friend, then later deletes their account; the new TOS language clarifies that Facebook doesn’t have to delete that message from their friend’s inbox. As is often the case, the backlash over this change is largely an overreaction.

Even so, it’s hard to think that nobody at Facebook anticipated it and took some proactive steps to address the changes and attempt to allay concerns and preclude the overreaction. Instead, Zuckerberg responds only after the fuss has been kicked up, and his explanation comes off as damage control, regardless of the motivations behind it or the TOS change. This situation seems akin to the scandal that emerged after the heads of US automakers took private jets to Washington when they went to ask for government bailout money. Whether or not the indignation over the private flights was warranted was mostly irrelevant, but the fact that nobody at the automakers anticipated it and raised a red flag smacks of stupidity. It’s hard to imagine that nobody at Facebook could have seen this storm of complaints coming, generated by what many there saw as a minor TOS change. Is Facebook’s TOS change really that bad? No, it’s not particularly egregious — but by not staying ahead of the backlash, Facebook comes off looking the worse for it. The point isn’t that Facebook or any other company shouldn’t change their TOS to better reflect their businesses and technology, but that in this day and age, any “minor” change is going to attract lots of scrutiny, and, in all likelihood, will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. This makes the handling of the change much more important than the change itself.

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Comments on “Facebook Fans The Flames Of Its TOS Change Overreaction”

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Shane C says:

TOS concerning pictures

I’ll preference this comment with the fact that I haven’t read the new TOS. Legalese makes me break out in hives.

Personally speaking, the thing that caught my attention (mentioned within the synopsis of the new TOS that I’ve read) is the supposed relinquishing of rights to photographs associated with defunct Facebook accounts. To find that one of my pictures has been used in a marketing campaign, or simply bundled and sold to a third party with out my consent would be less then unsettling.

But then again, as a professional photographer, I don’t put any pictures that I perceive to have value, up on Facebook.

sfox (user link) says:

Facebook TOS

Well, as an artist, I can tell you that it is not an “overreaction” to object strenuously to Facebook appropriating all rights to any images of my work that I post in perpetuity, without compensation. They are clearly ignorant, or were until yesterday, about copyright in regards to creative work. It’s the equivalent of doing work for hire for free. No thanks.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Facebook TOS

Well, as an artist, I can tell you that it is not an “overreaction” to object strenuously to Facebook appropriating all rights to any images of my work that I post in perpetuity, without compensation. They are clearly ignorant, or were until yesterday, about copyright in regards to creative work. It’s the equivalent of doing work for hire for free. No thanks.

That would be an issue if that were what they were doing. They were not. They were just explaining how their system actually works. It was never about using your content.

So, yes. You are overreacting.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: Re: Facebook TOS

I’d hate to disagree with Mike, but they were going pretty extreme with the new TOS. It’s a mute issue at this point because I see this morning they have reverted to the old TOS while they ‘discuss’ the rights and ‘responsibilities’ of users. So clearly there Could be overreaction. However, those new terms were over the top. The short paragraph of legalese below seems to go FAR beyond a simple ‘we need to be able to make a copy’ clause. Why would they need a right to sub-license, or include commercial and advertising rights ? Especially a ‘perpetual world wide license’. These are not just for pix and mp3s but also comments and discussions. I think the backlash was some what warranted and appears to have made them reverse the decision.

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.

sfox (user link) says:

Facebook TOS

And….one more thought: you would have no problem if, five or ten years from now, you saw a photo that a Friend had posted on Facebook of a child in your family being used commercially in a way you found offensive? Because Facebook had been sold to some other corporate entity who was a little shaky on ethics and common courtesy? If I have read the TOS correctly, there is nothing to stop that from happening. How likely? Who knows? But why should you have to worry about it, knowing you have no recourse.

And yes, I’m perfectly well aware of the fact that anything put on the web will stay there forever. But that is different from what Facebook users expect (naively, perhaps) and a not the same as making commercial use of it. That’s not sharing, it’s theft.

Duane (profile) says:

Huh? I should hope this is how it works

OK, if I’m reading and have read this right, the terms basically say if you send a message, photo, mp3, what-have-you, to someone, then they’re going to make a copy of it. You get a copy, the recipient(s) get a copy. If you cancel your account, anything you sent to people, facebook isn’t going to take away from them.

Seems reasonable to me.

Isn’t that how things work? I mean if Yahoo reached into my mailbox and took away all of the e-mails from someone who canceled their account, I’d be pretty damn pissed. Likewise with images. If I receive an image from God him/herself in my inbox, I can’t imagine the situation where it would seem OK to take that image away from me.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Corporate apologist much?

I don’t use Facebook, but the last line of this article makes me cringe. It seems to suggest that a company’s PR is more important than the quality or terms of its service. “Yes, you too can infringe on the rights of your clients – just bullsh!t them enough not to realise it!”

Um. No. Try reading again. If this were a *real* problem with the quality of its terms of service, then that would be an issue. But it’s not. It’s a non-issue. Thus, the more important thing in *THIS SITUATION* is how they screwed up the PR handling of the change.

Eadwacer says:

Facebook isn't your friend

There’s a distinct difference between a friend having a copy of an email I sent them and a service providor having a copy of that email as part of the service. It’s as if Google said that any email I sent through gMail could be kept on their servers forever, and used however they wanted. I have no expectation that a friend will destroy a copy of a photo, even if we stop being friends. I do have the right to expect that a service providor will delete copies of my files on their servers when I am no longer using their service.

Duane (profile) says:

Re: Facebook isn't your friend

Yes, but if your friend is keeping a copy of that email or photo in her inbox, then chances are it is also on the service provider’s server. (Provided you both use the same service, which is the case here.)

I can see the potential for misuse, but I can also see how this is just explaining what is a fact of life.

My university has a copy of every message anyone has ever sent me. How and why? Because I keep all those messages and my e-mail inbox and archives are on their servers. That’s it, and that’s all. There’s no way around that unless you force everyone to house all of their stuff on their personal computing device, and then we might as well go back to wearing flannel and listening to grunge rock.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who's decision was this anyway?

If you put time into the work product without compensation from the host, who owns the work product? I know some people that put hundreds of hours into facebook, and if they decide to take their content elsewhere, it should remain owned by the creator, correct? But, whatever. I have no idea what civil liberties are waived when you sign up with their hosting service, and what’s buried in the TOS.

But be skeptical when Facebook has to put out a poll asking for input to their own TOS. Why are they working so hard to keep the new TOS? Why do they even have to ask for feedback? Just revert back to the old TOS.

Your Gawd and Master says:

Re: Oh get over yourselves!

It’s not hypocrisy.

The music industry wants people to be exposed to their work.

The private individual only wants a select few to be exposed to their “work”.

In other words, a musician wants people to hear their music on the radio but I’m betting you’d be upset if we put your private telephone conversations up for the public to listen to, AND we could potentially make money from it without you having any say in the matter.

Heavydevelopment says:

This is not a little tweak.....

Here is the actual wording from a Channel Web article:

Under the license section of the TOS, Facebook said that by agreeing to the terms, users “grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, nonexclusive, transferable, worldwide license to use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain and distribute any user content you post.”

That means that your unsavory escapades in writing or photos potentially could be used to sell the service and, moreover, Facebook doesn’t need to tell you or get your permission.

According to the license, Facebook can “use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising. Facebook will be entitled to the unrestricted use of any such submission for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or compensation to you.”

Adding insult to injury, the site did not notify users of TOS changes and, in fact, said it doesn’t have to.

“We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these terms at any time without further notice. Your continued use of the Facebook service after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new terms.”

Basically facebook is saying “trust us, everything is going to be okay”. But would you personally give ANY company that free reign over your content? And also not ever have the obligation to tell you ANYTHING about future changes? Seriously fb should be called out on this and there shouldn’t be blog posts that remotely defend what they are doing (stares right at techdirt).

Shane C says:

Reverting back to the old TOS

As no one has mentioned this yet, Facebook has reverted back to their old TOS until their new TOS can be corrected, and I would guess properly addressed.

So I would say kudos to Facebook for at least realizing their mistake (whether it be in the TOS, or simply incorrect PR over the new TOS), and taking some action. It could have been just as easy to continue on, brush everything off, and wait for this to blow over.

Terms of Use Update

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.

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.

Anonymous Coward says:


This morning, there was this on FB:
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.

Jake says:


Compare the Terms of Service for Facebook to those for Flickr. Flickr makes it very clear that their rights only go as far as making copies to provide the service. Facebook reserves the right to do just about anything under the guise of promotion, such as using your photo to advertise products to your friend.

It’s a real issue. That’s one reason (among others) that pro photographers stay far away from Facebook. And it helps explain why the photos on Facebook are so generally crap.

Anonymous Coward says:

What's that washing sound?

So say a user sends a message to a friend, then later deletes their account; the new TOS language clarifies that Facebook doesn’t have to delete that message from their friend’s inbox.

If that was all they meant they could have easily written just that. They didn’t, and it wasn’t.

Nice whitewash attempt, though.

Lloyd Shugart (user link) says:

Mike, I'm not suprised by your reaction

Standing from your position in re that copyrights shouldn’t exist, or maybe they shouldn’t exist for some but should for others.

Mike are you being honest with your audience? It seems to me you are using the copyright regime to benefit from CrowdSourcing.


Help Improve the Techdirt Insight Community by Mike Schinkel

Monday, February 26th, 2007 @ 3:39AM
Mike Schinkel

Your legal agreement is going to keep me from contributing much. These are the specific problem areas, with a rating of 1 to 10 where 10 is a huge problem:

1. >> we will have the right to republish your written work …. and alter your submissions as we may determine necessary

Concern Level 5 – This is really after #4 is resolved.

2. >> Techdirt shall hold all right, title, and interest, including all intellectual property rights, in and to the submission.

3. >> You agree that the submissions shall be deemed “works for hire” under copyright law, and you agree to assign, and upon their creation, automatically assign, to us the ownership of such works, including copyright interests and any other intellectual property in such works, without the necessity of any further consideration.

Concern level 10 – Joint copyright is acceptable, but not full rights.

4. >> We may provide your written submissions to third parties without any indication of your authorship.

Concern level 8 – One of the reasons to join is to build my stature. That can’t happen if I’m anonymous

Lloyd Shugart (user link) says:

Really Mike...I mean REALLY

Floor 64 TOS http://www.insightcommunity.com/terms.php

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Lloyd Shugart (user link) says:

Mike I thought you Repudiated "COPYRIGHTS"

So Mike am I to assume and then may all of us assume that you really don’t take IP seriously, so that you don’t intend to enforce your TOS? Is that only on Techdirt or is that also on Floor 64 site??


Re: This Concept is Market Tested=Market Failure
by Mike – Jun 12th, 2008 @ 3:47am

So my only conclusion drawn from the facts is you believe in using the current intellectual property rights, laws and statutes, to engage in your business model. And that exclusive rights are part and parcel of that model

Not at all. We are quite clear in our agreements: we are selling a *service*, not a product, and we retain no rights to the end result. Our customers are free to do what they want with the output, even if it’s to redistribute or resell it.

We do not rely on IP for our business model at all. In fact, we encourage our customers to do what they want with our works, knowing it only helps us more in the end.

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