Several days ago, Facebook revised its terms and conditions, provoking outrage among its users. The effect of the wording was that the company owned anything you put on to the site, in perpetuity.
From the Baltimore Sun:
Facebook quietly changed the terms this month but users became aware of it—and some outraged by it—when the popular Consumerist blog posted about it this week and got tens of thousands of hits.
The change allows Facebook to keep user content such as photos and phone numbers even if members delete their accounts. Under the old terms, the license expired when users left Facebook.
Today, Facebook announced it has reverted back to its old terms, and Mark Zuckerberg, perhaps realizing his PR blunders with the site’s redesign when he called its detractors a vocal minority, actually stepped in early to explain himself. The site even asked users for suggested wording.
Mr Zuckerberg says that the language was too formal in its quest to protect itself when it showed, say, photographs of a member to someone else. But to extend it beyond the membership of the individual does seem excessive.
The way in which it snuck in the new terms without alerting members was also problematic: it was almost an admission of guilt that the terms and conditions contained something we didn’t like.
This is where the Facebook brand has been tarnished: repeated arrogance in the past has led to mistrust and negative brand associations.
But I do congratulate Mr Zuckerberg—or whomever wrote his blog post on the Facebook site, since I doubt he types with em dashes as I do—for at least commenting. There is something about the boss stepping in to say something.
The solution, as I have often stated in the brand consulting business, is to just say what you mean, and never mind the legalese.
It’s not a naïve view. Law stems partly from convention and clear communication, as anyone who has studied statutory interpretation will tell you. A decent contract is one where there is consensus rather that confusion.
So have a term that reads something like this:
Facebook does not own your material. You do. But in order for Facebook to show it to others, such as your friends, or potential friends, on the internet, insofar as you’ve permitted in your privacy settings, you grant us a licence to do so. Facebook is not responsible for people taking and misusing your material after we’ve shown it. And we promise to delete what we have under your account when you depart as a member, but we might not know if someone else has used your content wrongly on this site and will not be able to act on it unless you tell us.
Some lawyers might complain that common-sense clauses will do them out of work, but I don’t think so. In fact, it will make their work—which includes advising clients of the pitfalls of certain clauses—that much more valuable. They are meant to see the different sides of an argument, and I’m sure some will be able to see some of the problems behind the above.
But as a starting-point, it says what Facebook says it wants to say. By all means, add to it to plug other holes if it indeed fears an accidental misuse of user content. However, I am pretty sure that if a company acts ethically and does not take users’ content as its own, no one would jump up and down in complaint.
It’s only when brands become damaged, as Facebook’s has, that people’s radar goes on high alert to any little change.
But may I add my own clause now, and sneak this in, since Facebook never bothered to alert me to its changes:
Facebook and Jack Yan agree to contract out of the standard terms and conditions of Facebook’s site insofar as content ownership is concerned. Jack Yan owns all content that he has uploaded to his Facebook account, or has the authority to upload such content. This content is not owned by Facebook, and never will be. Jack Yan grants Facebook a licence to use this content during the time of his membership for legitimate means, such as for linking, or redisplaying to friends and others he has permitted to show it to. Facebook agrees that it will delete, within 30 days, whatever Jack Yan has uploaded to his account if he chooses to leave the site. This clause is deemed to have been accepted by both parties by its presence on Facebook, just as any other term is when Facebook uploads it to its site.
The last time I looked, people could still negotiate contractual terms, and that’s my addition. Let me know, Facebook, if you don’t like it. Otherwise I deem that you have accepted it, just as you deemed that I had accepted yours. Posted by Jack Yan, 06:00
I write with 'em dashes too - too often, infact - see, I did it again. Dang.Post a Comment
# posted by Addy: 2/18/2009 11:12:00 AM
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