Facebook’s Two Steps Back


Facebook ErrorUPDATE 1/18/2009: As of 1:17 a.m. this morning, Facebook has reverted to its previous Terms of Service! Updates and links here: http://is.gd/jHvW

I wasn’t planning to take on Facebook today, but that’s sort of what happened. I had the day off because of Presidents Day, so I headed to a Starbucks to co-work with a couple guy friends. On the way, I read on Twitter (via my iPhone—yes, while driving, bad I know!) that Facebook had surreptitiously changed its Terms of Service.

While Chris Brogan chose it as an opportunity to throw his hands in the air and lecture his readers for not realizing this would happen, I took it as an opportunity to take action and use the tools available to mobilize Facebook users to respond. Yep, I created a Facebook group: Facebook – Change Your Terms of Use Back NOW!

If I didn’t have the day off of work, this would’ve never happened. But it was a holiday, so I spent most of the day firing off missives on Twitter (which were eventually picked up and passed on by some heavy hitters like Kelby Carr and Beth Kanter), sending group invites to hundreds of my Facebook friends, and generally trying to spread the word.

The group has now surpassed 600 people.

Several other groups have also formed, including one that’s offering multilingual updates and has over 10,000 members.

So what went wrong to cause this kind of Facebook backlash? I’d say that Facebook made two strategic errors:

  1. An Over-step — Facebook’s new Terms of Service gives them “irrevocable, perpetual” rights to essentially all user-submitted content (e.g., photos, video, text, etc.). The previous TOS gave Facebook the same rights, but if a user deleted their account, Facebook’s rights to that content ended with the closing of the account. That language has now been removed. As The Consumerist blog noted, “Make sure you never upload anything you don’t feel comfortable giving away forever, because it’s Facebook’s now.”
  2. A Mis-step — As I alluded to, these changes to Facebook’s TOS happened unannounced on February 4, but it wasn’t until they were “exposed” by The Consumerist did Facebook make any effort to explain and “clarify” the purpose of these changes. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post (published at 5:09 p.m. today, long after much of the hub-bub in the Twitterverse/blogosphere/Internets) that these TOS changes were necessary in order to keep copies of messages in friend’s inboxes even after an account has been deleted. [Messages and comments on friends’ profile pages are one thing. Professional photographers photos (see Chris Dzombak’s comment in Post #18), videographers videos, etc. are another. Read point #1 again.]

Zuckerberg says, “In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.” I’m afraid accepting that statement at face value now will take more trust than Facebook probably deserves.

Zuckerberg says, “The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work.” Making this TOS change without notifying users first was a trust-breaking mis-step.

As a result of these TOS changes, I’m encouraging my colleagues and friends to take the following actions:

  • Join the revolution! — the Facebook group is going and growing. Don’t sit idly by and let Facebook change the rules. Everyone has a voice, and it can make a difference. I’m convinced of that!
  • Stop sharing your stuff with Facebook! — until Facebook agrees to limit the scope of their new TOS (to, say, messages and comments?), keep your photos and videos and blog posts to yourself (and other services that have more reasonable Terms of Service).
  • Get your stuff away from Facebook! — I’ve started deleting my photos, videos, and blog posts from Facebook, and you should consider doing that too. If enough of us do this, Facebook might pay attention. So let’s get their Facebook! And then let’s demand a “grace period” for saving our stuff from Facebook’s irrevocable, eternally perpetual land-grab.



Posted on 02-16-2009


  1. tm says:

    February 17th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve half a mind to start deleting all my photos right now… it will likely happen before the night is over.

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