Terms of Use

February 23rd, 2009 by Ilya Marritz

A social networking site should know better.

On February 6th, Facebook made a teensy change to the language in its terms of use, to reclassify all user content posted to the site (photos, inane observations about one’s friends and oneself) the perpetual property of Facebook Inc.

Last weekend, the Consumerist blog (recently purchased from Gawker by Consumers Union) pointed out that if you value your own identity in any way, these user terms are unacceptable. Even if you don’t have a sex change operation or join the Amish and cancel your facebook membership. You just might not want your pretty mug popping up in an ad for, say, stereo headphones, because your profile pic happens looks like a great stock photo.

By Wednesday, the uproar had grown so big that FB was forced to backtrack, and reverted to its earlier terms of use. But the story doesn’t end there. FB is now soliciting input from users on a new set of rules – through what else? – A “bill of rights and responsibilities” (drafting a subject-specific “bill of rights”  is also the US Congress’ favorite remedy for righteous indignation, dontcha know…)

The flap should give some comfort to privacy advocates, and not only because FB backtracked. We learned that users a) are patient enough to read the fine print, and b) care what’s in it.

But there’s something to fret about too: if FB had, say, 1 million users instead of 175 million, would this issue ever have exploded the way it did? Not likely. And most of us have already signed off on dozens of other terms of use that never received the same kind of scrutiny.

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