Does Facebook Really Own Your Data? NO! It’s About Openness

Does Facebook Really Own Your Data? NO! It’s About Openness

BREAKING: UPDATE: February 17, 2009, 11:20 PM Pacific

I just logged into Facebook and they have this update posted right there on the Home Page announcing they’ve decided to revert back to the previous Terms of Use while they “resolve the issues that people have raised”:


Way to go Facebook members for speaking out and being heard. Hopefully we’ll see more clearly worded TOS.

[Original post follows]

image I’ve been watching the hoopla and panic on the web and in the Twitterverse today regards Facebook‘s recently (slightly) revised Terms of Use.

The main change folks are reacting to is the perception that everything you load to Facebook suddenly belongs to Facebook. Not so.

The moment you sign up for an account on Facebook, you ARE agreeing to their Terms of Use, which includes a clause that you grant Facebook a license to use your content.

Yes, the license is “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide (with the right to sublicense).” Phew, we can see why so many members are upset because of all the implications and permutations this clause could mean.

And, yes, it does seem unfair to have members sign up for a service under one set of Terms and then to change them sitewide, even if moderately. As Facebook’s Corporate Counsel for Commercial Transactions, Suzie White, explained Facebook are working on consolidating their Terms.

Interestingly enough, I raised this very issue last month when I attended the Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas where one of the panels addressed legal matters in social media. Slides included screenshots of the TOS of giants like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube etc.

At Q&A time, I got up to ask a question on the mic, posed to one of the attorneys, specifically about Facebook’s Terms of Use – I asked if we are to interpret the TOS literally, Facebook are at complete liberty to do as they please with all users’ content.

Indeed, the attorney confirmed this to be the case. BUT, he quickly added words to the effect of: Facebook would be HIGHLY unlikely to ever utilize member content in any way inappropriate such that it would jeopardize the member experience of trust, safety and privacy. (Otherwise, they might just have a class action on their hands, yes?!)

See Facebook CEO and Founder, Mark Zuckerberg response to the outcry today: On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information.





Here’s the way I look at it:

1.   Much as I’m one of Facebook’s biggest evangelists and I believe they’re here for the long haul, we have to remember there was life before Facebook. Sure it’s great to share a ton of stuff with friends, family, clients, peers around the world. But caveat emptor. Don’t be sharing anything anywhere online that you wouldn’t want exposed publicly in some way. My rule of thumb on Facebook, Twitter and beyond is: “Would I be cool with this showing up on the front page of the New York Times, found in a Google search or seen by my grandchildren in a couple decades’ time??” If ever the answer is no, the data simply does not go online.

2.   With all due respect to many of my artist and creative friends in the Facebook community, I really feel photos of your artwork is safe on Facebook. It’s highly unlikely you’d walk into someone’s house one day and see a big coffee table book with your artwork published by Facebook. Believe it or not, Facebook really do care about their members and wouldn’t intentionally do something to upset or provoke their users. Adding a watermark to each image may help you feel safer. DISCLAIMER: I’m not an attorney, I’m not giving legal advice here at all – it’s important always to do your own due diligence.

3.   For me, all the content I load to Facebook is for public display anyway: I love it that my photos are propagated around the platform in the feeds. I take photos and load them to Facebook on purpose for more visibility. I love it that my blog posts import as Notes and can be shared around Facebook and commented on. And, all my public videos are on YouTube and imported into Facebook. My status updates, wall posts and comments are all strategically written. I *want* droves of people to be looking at my content – and I invite anyone using Facebook for business networking to consider this strategy too.

4.   Another thing, though I share a ton of content online for free, I’m also monetizing my intellectual property with my consulting services, products and training. I believe it is simply not possible to give away all your knowledge. And I highly doubt a third party giant like Facebook would be trying to profit from your IP. Though I don’t doubt they’ll use our data for market research purposes. Again, I’m cool with that as I’m sharing my data on Facebook of my own volition.

Bottom line, I really
encourage the Facebook TOS naysayers to put things in perspective. Facebook are listening. Mark Zuckerberg responded today. He’s had flack before (Beacon!) and has publicly apologized and put steps in place to rectify sticky situations in the past.

Facebook actually consider themselves still a startup! (Even at five years old and 165 million+ active users!) Just shows how much further they plan to go – I do know their #1 focus is growth.

What are your thoughts? Are you more reticent now about using Facebook? Do you think the revised TOS are harsh? How so? Add your comments below.

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Mari Smith

Forbes Top Social Media Power Influencer | Facebook Marketing Expert | Globe-trotting Speaker, Author | 'Mari like Ferrari' | Bubbly Scottish-Canadian!

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  1. Mark aaron Murnahan on February 17, 2009 at 4:40 am

    It seems that it would be a bad idea for Facebook to do anything that would harm users’ interests. If they harm their users, they harm the company, after all.

  2. Judy Rey Wasserman on February 17, 2009 at 4:47 am

    Basically I agree with you, except for two concerns.
    1. If Facebook is ever sold or control comes into other hands than steer the course now.
    2. As an artist, I am worried that I am granting rights beyond showing my images. The rights to publish prints, licensing of images and such are very valuable rights.
    It is that second point that is causing the uproar. When Facebook extends it rights over time, it touches strongly on copyrights.
    I am hoping that we on Twitter & Facebook can attract some non-Facebook legal counsel with expertise in this area to advise us.
    Thanks for the post,
    Judy Rey

  3. Drew Bischof on February 17, 2009 at 5:12 am

    Excellent Mari. I think you’re right on, on this issue. They have a lot of motivation to do the right thing. The negative PR if they misused someones content would be huge and very damaging.

  4. Christine on February 17, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Good information, and well written. Sensible thoughts.

  5. Bonochromatic on February 17, 2009 at 6:14 am

    I keep noticing the words “highly unlikely,” etc, showing up in this conversation. I’ve written TOU, and I always thought they were designed to eliminate vagueness, not create it. The fact is, when we remove what is “highly unlikely” from the equation, we’re left with the stark truth: if Facebook wants to publish a coffee table book full of pictures of me that I didn’t even upload, they are legally entitled to do so, and I have no recourse, because I agreed to a totally different TOU (if it’s not 100% the same, it’s 100% different) years ago.

    What’s worse, they’re not even making any attempt to inform their users of the change – I logged in today and everything was business as usual.

    Simply “trusting” that Facebook is better than that isn’t enough. The fact is, they are a business, and they are truly committed to nothing besides making a profit – and with monetization such a sore topic for Facebook, the prospect of selling coffee-table books can only be getting more and more attractive.

  6. Rita Cartwright on February 17, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Good article; however, I did not see what will happen to my content if I decide to end my agreement with Facebook.

  7. Jesse Luna on February 17, 2009 at 5:30 am

    Thanks for the post Mari. As always, your expertise helps clear away some of the ambiguity. I think that this shoring up of the TOS means that fewer people are going to be as willing to publish their artwork and videos. MySpace has gone through the same process of closing itself up. At first it thought it was positioning itself to squish YouTube but I think it ended shooting itself in the foot.

  8. Diane Saarinen on February 17, 2009 at 5:53 am

    You wrote: “DISCLAIMER: I’m not an attorney, I’m not giving legal advice here at all – it’s important always to do your own due diligence.”

    Since you are self-admittedly one of Facebook’s biggest evangelists, I am curious — did you yourself consult a lawyer to help you decipher the new TOS before you wrote this, or did you just “wing it?”

  9. Kristin on February 17, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I have told several people, several several people! that every word you say online and every picture that you post should be considered public. As you said, if it came up in a google search would you be happy? I also mentioned that I have found myself editing my spoken word in my head before I speak a lot more now – now that I have a blog and that I interact more on public forums.

    I’ve seen too many times where private emails aren’t kept private, people Reply To All, instead of just one person and so on. I just do my best to pay attention and only publish content that I want shared.

    Excellent article – Thank You.

  10. Nakeva on February 17, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Mari, I think this change is an impetus for something we are not yet aware of on the Facebook front. I also think it is sending people into a crazy spin over their rights to their own content. I even had to question whether or not I wanted to upload photos or use the Notes. The thought being what if they did, for some reason, choose to use my content? I get nothing for agreeing to let them share my information outside the site itself. For some reason it makes me think of FOIA or Google dealing with the government requesting data from its servers.

    My stance at this point is we agree to the TOS at account signup with the idea that yes, we agree to let Facebook “share” our content on the site, but not to allow Facebook in turn use that content in any way outside the site. If they change the terms of service, which they have the right to do, and they change to the extent shown recently, we as users should have an option to opt out or make some kind of modification to our accounts.

    As much as I have grown to like Facebook and its possibilities for me in social networking, I will continue to use the service but with caution and renewed awareness. I have no idea why they all of a sudden decided to change the terms anyway, butmy friends still want to know what I’m up to and when their pictures will be up, haha.

    Business as usual. Thanks for the insightful post. Also, thanks for the vote and feedback in my Twtitter poll. You made my dayas my Facebook guru!

  11. Jeff Cogswell on February 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    As a professional writer, my take is simple: I don’t upload the material I own and wish to protect to Facebook’s servers. Instead, I upload it to my own servers and paste links into facebook.

    And I agree about your “highly unlikely” statement. Facebook isn’t stupid: They know that if they were to publish a coffee table book filled with photos, they would just be asking for a lawsuit. But if people are skeptical of that, then don’t upload their artwork. Purchase space on a server where you can guard your copyrights, and upload links to Facebook.

  12. Ken Shane on February 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    A lot of people like me put original music on Facebook. Why is so hard to believe that Facebook would put out a “Best of Facebook Music” collection, and not pay anyone?

  13. Howard Greenstein on February 17, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Yes, and Mari. Yes, stuff is public when you put it online. AND, I should have been informed, clearly, by FB when they were changing their terms. This is tone-deafness on their part. Did they not learn from Beacon and the fact that users want to know when, if an how their data would be used to serve ads to their friends, that this change might also rattle the cage?
    I’m also about openness – but much of what I put up as open is on my website and linked from FB. And people kept asking me why I haven’t posted ’25 things’ about me on FB. Because,as you note, I don’t want them appearing over and over for years without control over them.
    It takes a few times making users angry before a company starts to lose reputation points – and then eventually people, even if they use the product, assume the worst about a company – see Microsoft as an example.
    FB needs to keep the startup mentality for innovation, but gain maturity about what their customers want when it comes to data and trust.

    Howard Greenstein’s last blog post.. A useful list of Twitter tools

  14. JoAnn on February 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Your common sense approach to FB issues makes sense. Thanks for an alternative view to panic.

  15. Jeana on February 17, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    great post, mari. it’s always good to keep things into perspective, and your bullet points were right on. i think there was a lot of misinformation out there (esp. on twitter), and you did an excellent job relaying the right information. thanks!

  16. Nancy Marmolejo, Viva Visibility on February 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I’ve been getting a lot of emails and messages about this too, particularly from artists. I agree with you that the promotional benefits of being visible far outweigh the risk of your photos and content suddenly being seiged or appropriated by Facebook. It’s a reasonable fear for many, but as you stated in this post, doesn’t merit hysteria. Thanks for shedding insight!

  17. Mark McElroy on February 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Let’s make this simple: the issue here is OWNERSHIP.

    This is not about openness. It’s not about sharing. It’s not about Facebook’s philosophy or intentions. It’s not about privacy. it’s not about trust.

    The issue here is OWNERSHIP.

    Who owns the photo you just posted to Facebook? By the current terms of service, they do — now and forever, without limit, world without end, amen.

    Helping users share information doesn’t require a company to declare total, eternal, perpetual ownership of the information its users share … and that’s what Facebook has done, pure and simple.

    Shifting the conversation to other issues — like privacy or access — helps muddy the water … but it does nothing to address what’s happened here.

    Facebook has declared itself the eternal and perpetual owner of everything you share there. Instead of defending them, Mari, a “Facebook evangelist” should be demanding accountability from those whose Gospel she’s chosen to preach.

  18. Madalyn Sklar on February 17, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Great post, Mari! I’m all for sharing my information but the bottom line is I allow what I choose to be public. If Facebook or any other social media site retains ownership it’s because I let them. People can decide to not use these sites. It’s that plain and simple. I for one embrace these sites and do not lie awake at night wondering if someone takes my e-Books and resells them for their own profit. I also don’t worry about Facebook taking my photos and selling them.

    Madalyn Sklar’s last blog post.. Motivation will almost always beat mere talent!

  19. Molly on February 18, 2009 at 12:53 am

    I arrived here by a link in Madalyn Sklar’s blog on the issue. As usual both of you are calm heads in a tempest in a teapot.

    Molly’s last blog post.. Marketing Trends in Music 2009

  20. Diane Saarinen on February 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Mark wrote: “Instead of defending them, Mari, a “Facebook evangelist” should be demanding accountability from those whose Gospel she’s chosen to preach.”

    I totally agree with Mark. As of now, Facebook has temporarily reverted back to its old terms of service. This, I feel, was in response to public outcry and certainly not to the message of “trust them.”

    I also am truly concerned about the fact that Mari hosted a public teleseminar in January to an audience of hundreds of artists without, from what I can gather, apparently not consulting any legal experts on the topic of ownership of one’s images on this platform of Facebook.

  21. Tim 'Gonzo' Gordon on February 18, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    A friend of mine found out that an old acquaintance had uploaded a rather embarrassing photo of her (college days) and tagged her name on it. Anyone can see it. But she didn’t upload it, and doesn’t want it there. Unfortunately, I doubt there is much she can do in this situation. Perhaps ask that it be taken down. But how do you take down someone else’s photo if they won’t do it?

  22. Brian Campbell on February 21, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    I was glad to see facebook listening to it’s members. It was also good that facebook members banded together and got noticed. Facebook has not been that concerned with what it’s users want, but now that the critical mass of 100 million+ people has been acquired they will not start to optimize the experience.
    Brian Campbell

    Brian Campbell’s last blog post.. Create Your Own Social Media Mania For Your Business – 25 People ONLY

  23. Timothy on February 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    all the content I load to Facebook is for public display anyway: I love it that my photos are propagated around the platform in the feeds.

  24. Rob W. on February 24, 2009 at 12:21 am

    175 unread messages in just your Facebook Inbox – ouch!

  25. Anne on March 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Good post…if you don’t want it out there, don’t put it out there.

  26. Diane at on March 3, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Illuminating post. Thanks for cutting through the outrage and uproar and lending some common sense to this discussion! Loved your YouTube video Facebook in 5 Mins a Day too.

    Diane at’s last blog post.. Feb 28, Benefits of Yoga: The Perfect Exercise

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