I’ve sort of missed the boat on blogging about the Facebook ‘Terms of Service’ debacle but here’s my two pennies worth anyway.
For those who don’t watch the news, surf the Web or use Facebook a quick sum up!
Facebook changed their TOS earlier this week from stating that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire to acknowledging that they could retain archived copies of your content. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, defended this decision saying that is was to “better reflect how users used the site.” His argument was that it was to enable consistency if people left by keeping comments on pictures, links to information etc.
A consumerist article highlighted the changes which effectively said that Facebook would have the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. Within days people were up in arms about it. Facebook have since backed down after pressure from consumer and civil liberty groups.
Since the back down there have been two main observations.
People don’t understand what rights social networking sites have over their data
It’s been pointed out that the enthusiasm people have when using these type of sites clouds their understanding of what rights the sites have over their data. This is nothing new, the confusion over ‘who owns what?’ started with the invention of the printing press but the ubiquity of the Internet can lead to quick and frightening consequences. (I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a trailer for RudeTube (an awful E4 television show that televises videos from YouTube), did these people really realise their antics could be shown on TV so their Nan could watch them? Mind you whose Nan is up that late?)
My colleague Brian Kelly states in his blog “My, perhaps somewhat controversial view, is that there has been a failure to recognise the complexities related to ownership of data in a social networked environment and instead we have been seeing simplistic solutions being proposed which, if applied generally, would undermine the development of the more open social networks which, ironically, many of those engaged in the discussions would actually prefer to see.”
Copyright, ownership, intellectual property rights and all that is pretty complicated stuff. If confused I sometimes direct a question to Jordan Hatcher (OpenContentlawyer) but there are no guarantees I’ll understand the answer!
“Access to your data is what matters – but it also needs to be carefully understood. For example, access to your health records might not be a good thing. Rather, you can control who has access to that data. Similarly, whilst no one might own your data, what you do have is the right to demand guidelines and principles like what we are trying to do at the DataPortability Project on how “your” data can be used. Certainly, the various governmental privacy and data protection legislation around the world does exactly that: it governs how companies can use personally identifiable data.”
So the issue is really what Facebook do with your data. And that is a question even they don’t know the answer to yet.
Social Networking sites are struggling to make money out of their users
The Guardian technology blog points out that “Facebook has a problem. Every time it looks as though it’s going to wriggle its way to creaming just a bit more money from its millions of users’ comings and goings, they spot it – and get vocal enough to force a reverse.”
It’s the same for all the other similar sites. Raw data is all they have and if they can’t do more with it then they are going to eventually go to the Web site graveyard in the sky. My colleague Paul Walk has written a blog post saying that “there is only one thing of potential, unproven, value to Facebook and that is the aggregate of users’ attention data.”
He continues “We flatter ourselves if we think Facebook is interested in our uploaded photos from the office party. What they really want is to know what we think, what we like and don’t like, what we buy, how we plan to vote….. People will pay large amounts of money for this kind of data.”
If they can’t make money from this data where does it leave us people who now find we are increasingly using these sites as part of our working practice? Can we really go on getting something for nothing?
I suppose the answer is for us users not to put all our eggs in one basket. At UKOLN my colleague Brian Kelly and I have mentioned the whole risk management approach for Web 2.0 time and time again. Take a look at the ‘Risk Assessment For Making Use Of Third Party Web 2.0 Services’ briefing paper written way back.
I’m afraid I haven’t really added to the debate but I just wanted to flag that we, as users, need to make sure we watch this space and stay vigilant!