Facebook updates Terms of Use; Internet freaks out

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On February 4th, Facebook changed its Terms of Use (ToU). You probably didn't notice. I know I didn't. At least, not until last night.

That's when The Consumerist posted a story about it, with the somewhat alarming headline: Facebook's New Terms Of Service: "We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever." Before long "Facebook terms of service" had become meme-of-the-day. Slashdot picked up the news, Twitter was abuzz with angry Tweets, and in general there was much commotion.

And I just don't get it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as outraged as everyone else is, but not for quite the same reason. I think The Consumerist missed the big news here.

First let's look at the relevant chunk of an older version of Facebook's ToU. This is from a May 24, 2007 copy (Facebook doesn't offer a way to directly examine older versions of its ToU) found at archive.org.

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. 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. [Source]

And now, the latest version, dated February 4th, 2009:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) 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 distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses. [Source]

Now here's what confuses me. What people seem to be grabbing onto is the removal of this portion of the ToU: "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..." Ergo the "Forever." line in the above headline.

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