Monday, February 11, 2008

Parsing Facebook User Data Policies

Facebook and User Data. In Friday’s post I noted that I had actually taken time to read the Facebook Terms of Use. Since I’m encouraging people to set up Facebook accounts I have some responsibility to point out issues. The people who read this blog aren’t likely to post personal information as thoughtlessly as teens and young adults do, but we all still need to be aware. As I pointed out on Friday, at the very least we need to decide whether, as advertisers, we want to take advantage of profile data like Facebook’s. At best, we need to become advocates for policies and practices that will be in the long-run best interest of our discipline. Facebook is not the only site that puts these issues front and center, it’s just the largest and most visible and therefore a good example. Detractors of Google could question that statement, but my experience is that Google has a much more restrictive set of information policies and practices than what I’m describing here.

Facebook’s Terms of Use is several pages long and full of detail. In all fairness, it has good information and warnings. It tries to keep children under 13 off, although we all know how much good that does. It also tries to keep dangerous people and practices off the site, and it appears to have been taking that responsibility more seriously recently. They talk the right talk about intellectual property but we all know that is difficult to enforce.

That said, Facebook’s policy on data is eye-popping. This is a short quote from the section entitled User Content Posted on the Site:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

Some of the scary words are “perpetual,” “irrevocable,” and “distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise.” But there's so much more that it's gotten to long for a single post. Tomorrow I'll get to the third party/ad networks issues.

And, in the meantime, if you have teenagers you might want to talk to them about implications of sites like Facebook. Are they aware, for instance, that colleges and employers are searching social sites for information that might affect the future of users of these sites?
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