There has been quite a bit of uproar about Facebook changing their Terms of Service. Unfortunately, no one is asking the right question, thus letting Mark get away with answering the wrong one. The section that created this uproar reads:
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.
In other word. Anything you publish on Facebook can be used by Facebook. TechMeme sees a large number of replies to this change and this forces Mark Zuckerberg to write a post explaining Facebook’s motives. He writes:
Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information.
Still, the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.
Mark tries to explain the complexity that arises when users start sharing information. He explains that this TOS change is needed to allow users to have access to shared information , even when the original sender/sharer has deleted his or her account. In other words, if I share a photo with you, and I decide to delete my account, should you then not have access to that photo anymore?
While Mark does a good job explaining this process and it’s complexities I cannot help but feel that the blogging community has let Mark get away with answering the wrong question. He has done a perfect job in avoiding a much more important privacy issue than the issue that arises when two people share information via Facebook.
The questions Mark should have answered are the following:
What exactly does Facebook do with all the user data has been collected on Facebook, and how exactly does it monetize that, even after a user has deleted his or her account?
I could care less about the information I share with others via Facebook. That sharing process is a conscious act. I know that if I share that whatever gets shared is out of my control. What I do not know is what Facebook does with that information. Why do they tap into all of my interactions and my data? What do they store, and how do they monetize that exactly? If I set my privacy settings as strict as possible do they still see everything? How is that data being used outside of Facebook? Do 3rd parties get access to that information as well, even if I do not want them too?
The problem at hand isn’t users sharing things on Facebook. It isn’t even controlling privacy on Facebook. The problem is that I do not have a clue or option to protect myself from Facebook. Any service that monetizes user data and interactions indirectly using a free but advertisement business model puts the value of the network in front of the value of the individual user. You get a free service, but you do not know exactly what you are giving up for that. And that is what Mark should be explaining. The rest is just a decoy so that the really difficult questions do not need to be answered.
I might not even mind that Facebook monetizes my user data, my friends, and my interactions. But right now, I don’t know how Facebook uses that data.We might think that our online lives are not connected to our real lives. We might even think that privacy is dead. But the problem is not that privacy is dead, but that it is distributed unevenly. In other words, the user is forced into total transparency when signing up for services like Facebook. But the service itself lacks transparency. There is no way we are going to find out what Facebook does with us. And it is this unbalanced relationship that we should be worried about. Mark Zukcerberg does a great job answering the wrong question, and we all fell for it again.