Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Parsing Facebook User Data Policies

Read part 1 here.
Third Parties and Facebook Data. Continuing on down the Terms of Use we find a section on Third Party Websites and Content that is inclusive, although once again they try to exclude offensive material and protect intellectual property. Just below that is a section called Share Service. This is a direct quote from that section:

Company offers a feature whereby users of the Site can share with others or post to their own member profile, videos, articles and other Third Party Applications, Software or Content from, and/or links to, Third Party Sites through the Service (the "Share Service"). You acknowledge and agree that your use of the Share Services and all links, User Content or Third Party Applications, Software or Content shared through the Share Service is subject to, and will fully comply with the user conduct rules set forth above and the other terms and conditions set forth in these Terms of Use.

Does that mean that “perpetual, irrevocable and distribute. . .for any purpose” apply here? I’m not a lawyer, but that’s what it looks like to me. It goes on to talk about Use of Share Links by Online Content Providers. Are these the 15,000+ widgets shown on Friday’s post? That’s what it sounds like to me. Here’s what it says:

By including a Share Link, Online Content Provider automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the Share Service in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarize, and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which Online Content Provider places the Share Link.

That should drive potential developers to the Developer Terms of Service page, which is also quite extensive and technical. It seems to repeat the same data policies. There are many links, none of which I investigated.

Finally, I took a look at the Privacy page (from the top nav bar; the Terms of Use is one of the text links at the bottom of pages). This page allows users to set several parameters for the sharing of their data with other Facebook users. It’s user-friendly and when I’ve tried, it has worked as described. The introductory statement is designed to make users feel comfortable:

Facebook wants you to share your information with exactly the people you want to see it. On this page, you'll find all the controls you need to set who can see your profile and the stuff in it, who can find and contact you on Facebook, and more.

However, it is not their Privacy Policy, which is another text link at the bottom of pages. It is also extensive. This is a short quote from the lengthy Information We Collect section:

If you choose to use our invitation service to tell a friend about our site, we will ask you for information needed to send the invitation, such as your friend's email address. We will automatically send your friend a one-time email or instant message inviting him or her to visit the site. Facebook stores this information to send this one-time invitation, to register a friend connection if your invitation is accepted, and to track the success of our referral program. Your friend may contact us at info@facebook.com to request that we remove this information from our database.
Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience.
By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.

There are lengthy sections on sharing information with third parties and advertising that I haven’t quoted. They are worth reading. Facebook’s Beacon service for advertisers has generated considerable controversy. This is the current statement:

Facebook Beacon is a means of sharing actions you have taken on third party sites, such as when you make a purchase or post a review, with your friends on Facebook. In order to provide you as a Facebook user with clear disclosure of the activity information being collected on third party sites and potentially shared with your friends on Facebook, we collect certain information from that site and present it to you after you have completed an action on that site. You have the choice to have Facebook discard that information, or to share it with your friends.
To learn more about the operation of the service, we encourage you to read the tutorial here. To opt out of the service altogether, click here.

From my perspective as a marketer, not a lawyer, Facebook seems to be honest in describing its policies, and the documents are detailed and inclusive. Does anyone believe that teenagers will read the material—only a tiny portion of which is quoted here? If you do, I have time-honored bridge to sell you.

Marketers should give these issues consideration from several perspectives. Do you want to participate in advertising on Facebook itself? There are numerous ad networks that serve the Facebook applications (widgets, etc.); that’s another alternative. Recent articles from Randall Rothberg of the IAB and Esther Dyson, IT maven, are both ad-friendly and give worthwhile perspectives.

Put all of it together and two things emerge. One is that marketers need to tread carefully as they consider advertising on social networks; both the contextual and the data privacy issues are troublesome. The second is that marketers may want to build their own networks. We’ve been doing that with email addresses. Why not extend permission-based activities to relevant networks? Either create your own or partner with an established network that is relevant.

Whichever of the several ways you choose to go, think carefully about how you want to inform and prepare visitors for the kind of advertising they will see or receive. We all want to do targeted advertising. But behaviorally-targeted advertising can get downright creepy—“How do they know that about me?” We don’t want to creep-out our customers!
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