Design & Development

Facebook Dickers with Terms-of-Service Language

Practical eCommerce readers may have heard the online rumblings regarding some intrusive changes Facebook tried to make to its terms of service agreement. The new terms declared that Facebook would retain full license to any and all user content on the site, even when it had been removed by the user. There has been much outrage regarding the new language, and the blogosphere is abuzz with conspiracy talk.

Alarming Language

The language used in the updated user agreement was alarming: “You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sub-license) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works … and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising…”

Additionally, Facebook threatened to retain content even if the user had removed it: “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.”

Room For Concern

The new terms of service seemed to indicate that all of the content ever uploaded to Facebook servers could be used, modified and re-licensed by Facebook. Moreover, it seemed to imply that this was the case even if a member left the service. This would appear to apply not only to profiles, but also to “fan pages,” which I have recommended that online companies use for marketing purposes.

It’s hard to imagine these terms applying to the fan pages of mega-brands, say Pepsi or Coca-Cola. But, there doesn’t seem to be any separate or different reference to the Facebook fan pages with regard to these terms, and so it would seem that the terms would apply to all accounts across the board. I’m not a lawyer, but there appears to be plenty of room for concern.

Facebook User Uprising

The outraged user response to these changes so concerned Facebook that it has done an about-face (no pun intended) and retracted these updates. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a press conference and added a post to the Facebook blog discussing the issue:

“Last week, we returned to our previous Terms of Use as we worked on a new set of governing documents that would more clearly explain the relationship between Facebook and its users. Since then, I’ve been excited to see how much people care about Facebook and how willing they are to contribute to the process of governing the site.”

This statement was followed by the release of what Facebook calls the “Draft Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities For User Review, Comment and Vote.” Zuckerberg said that these guidelines are the “aspirational goals for Facebook and how we want to craft the service going forward.” He also noted that, “We do not own user data, users do,” and that the company was regretful for what happened over the past few weeks.

How Could These Changes Affect Your Site?

So what does all this mean for you, your site, and your use of Facebook as a promotional tool? For the moment, given Zuckerberg’s comments and my layman’s knowledge of copyright law, I don’t think there’s a lot to worry about. Facebook probably isn’t dumb enough to destroy itself with megalomaniacal claims to previously trademarked or copyrighted material.

Facebook remains a great online marketing tool. And, while the savvy ecommerce owner should certainly keep an eye on developments, I recommend a continued use of Facebook profiles and fan pages for the exposure, brand recognition, and traffic they can produce.

Jeff Muendel
Jeff Muendel
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