Facebook updates Terms of Use; Internet freaks out

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I honestly don't see this change as such a big deal. Before the update you were giving Facebook the right to use any content you posted for as long as it existed on a Facebook page, and most of us never think to go back and remove old content. I don't mean to sound callous and I do understand how the change could have an impact. If you posted a picture of yourself draped over a toilet after your 21st birthday party went terribly wrong, it was nice to know that when you came to your senses and removed the image it would be gone forever. That is no longer the case, and I can understand how knowing Facebook has that image in an archive somewhere and can trot it out at anytime could be unsettling. But the bottom line is you should be thinking about what you're sharing to begin with. License or no license, stuff gets around and your best bet is to always assume anything you post is going to be out there forever.

But back to the Terms of Use change and what really alarmed me. How about this new passage: "(b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising." (Full disclosure:, I can't confirm that this is a new passage in the latest update — just that the change was made sometime between December 31, 2007 and February 4th, 2009. It's definitely the first time I've read it, though.) To me, this is huge. Consider an aspiring model who has a few images of herself on her Facebook page. Her image is her currency, and Facebook is saying they can take one of her photos and use it, gratis, in an ad campaign. At least, that's how I'm reading things (do keep in mind I'm not a lawyer). They could take a comment I make on someone's "Wall" and print it anywhere: "Peter Smith says Brand X works best" conveniently leaving out the end of my quote " out of this selection of really bad software." Trust someone who has been misquoted in this way in the past. It's a bad thing to not have the opportunity to approve quotes attributed directly to you.

And what smells rottenest about this whole deal is what comes first in the Terms of Use: "We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these Terms at any time without further notice. Your continued use of the Facebook Service after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new Terms." So they can (and apparently do) change the terms without any kind of notification to us, the users. That's why you (and I) weren't aware of the February 4th change until yesterday when The Consumerist ran the story.

So apparently it's too late to save ourselves: Facebook already owns everything we've posted up to this point. And they can use our names and images in whatever way they choose to. Keep this in mind going forward. This still might be a good time to revisit your Facebook page and remove anything you don't want them exploiting. As for me, I'm going to go take down those photos of our guinea pigs before they end up in some Peruvian gourmet magazine.

[Update: Mark Zuckerberg has a blog post up clarifying Facebook's intentions towards your content. On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information. Lets hope the ToU get another update to reflect the information in this post.]

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