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Will McInnes

Who owns you online?

You don’t own you, online.

Not if you is your words, your photos, your comments and updates, and you are one of the 175 million active Facebook users worldwide.

Must normal citizens don’t know this, and some don’t care. Increasingly they/we will, and perhaps very well should.

You see in Facebook’s old Terms of Service – effectively the contract between the users of the service and the providers of the service – if you shut down your account then any rights Facebook had to all of your old content would expire. That seems fair to me.

Prompted by an excellent short piece in The Consumerist, it’s clear that’s changed, and all of those that have continued using the service have by default agreed to the new terms. Uh oh!

Here’s the rights you’ve granted to Facebook – enjoy catching up on what you’ve already agreed to!

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.

WOW :)

I love it! It’s like porn for lawyers (these are now my words!).

OK, put that draft in the bin – I can see where you were going with it but it’s not making my fingers and toes dance. Let’s try a different approach: now I want you to shut your eyes and imagine in your every wish could come true….aha….yup…go with it…imagine if we made all the rules…… go with it, run wild, now slowly open your eyes and just start writing….mmmkay….that’s it..‘irrevocable’ – I love it!!!!…go! GO! WOOOooooo!!!

Seriously. That is a real masterpiece. A proper piece of work. Genius. It probably only took 10 minutes. They were in flow. It just poured down through the fingers into the keyboard and every wish came true.

I don’t have time right now to write about my feelings and questions on this or the implications but here’s a short bulleted list of thoughts and questions.

  • Do real normal people care if every image of them on Facebook will potentially last forever and be in someone else’s control and ownership?
  • Is it already less expensive to store a jpeg forever (fractional hosting costs) than to remove an image (fiddly, expert human costs)?
  • Therefore is personal content about us like nuclear waste - does it linger on, buried, hidden, malignant and toxic?
  • Will this become like every other lag between the company’s knowledge and the consumers’ awareness? (See cigarettes, baby milk, transfattyacids, dangerous batteries, tyres, airline operators, drugs). Will there be a violent backlash when the chickens come home to roost?
  • Or do Facebook have a responsibility to cover all of this for reasons we don’t appreciate (like heavy legal obligations like – guessing – terrorism, laundering, Sarbannes-Oxley? @mediaczar suggested this on Twitter in reply to UK Member of Parliament @tom_watson. Is someone else the bad guy really?
  • Does it even matter? Maybe war, starvation and disease that ruin millions of lives every day are worse than Facebook owning a bit of our digital selves?

(For further reading on the real big issues here, privacy and identity, I find danah boyd to be an excellent and thought provoking thinker.)

What do you think?

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  1. Really interesting post. Some cross over with the BBC radio 4 programme Moral Maze last week considering privacy, in a governemnt context tho – they had someone from Google as an expert witness. There are a few interesting comments on their related message board
    It will boil down to trust – as all relationships do – the first time Facebook abuses this position people will either leave it – or edit out what they put on it – and then it will become pointless and powerless anyway.

    Posted 16th February 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  2. While I doubt this will hurt the average user that posts a few photos of their holidays or pet cat, this should be particularly worrying for the many artists, musicians, writers and other creative types who use Facebook to promote their work.

    If you had the option of revoking Facebook’s usage rights by removing work or even removing yourself from Facebook, all would be fine (if a little inconvenient).

    But if you are granting Facebook an unlimited and permanent license to reuse your work, it could create problems if you want to use or sell that work commercially later on.

    Posted 16th February 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Interesting to see that, according to CNN, Facebook have already done a u-turn on this (

    It seems this is a direct result of how unhappy its members were and the backlash from sites like the consumerist.

    On the one hand this is a great example: they listened to the people who really mattered, they responded and, when justification wasn’t enough, they took action.

    However, it’s not the first time FB have rolled something out, only to make concessions or repeal it after a user revolt. Given their experience and position, you’d expect they’d be able to spot potentially contentious or damaging issues before turning them out.

    Posted 18th February 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  4. Tune in to BBC News at 1pm today – Mr McInnes will be making a cheeky appearance to have his say about Facebook’s actions – and re-action.

    Posted 18th February 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  5. View the clip on the BBC website: “Net guru on Facebook data policy”

    Well done, Will! Who’s the Daddy?!

    Posted 18th February 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  6. That’s really cool. Will’s hit the big time! “Net Guru” :-)

    Without wanting to sound like some fawning sycophant, Will, you were really good, made some good points and finished up well too. Impressed at your non-fazed-at-being-in-a-big-studio-ingness… I’d have just gone “Er… wibble?”

    Did you discuss much more outside of this clip, or was that pretty much it?

    Posted 19th February 2009 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Nice article, thank you. I knew about FB dodgy practices and also about the more recent u-turn (good as long as it lasts…). But what about Flick’r? Do you know what the score is on that one? I’d like to upload some of my graphics there but I can make much sense of their T&Cs. Ta.

    Posted 13th June 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink