Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Victory: Facebook Reverts to Previous Terms of Service

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, has a new post on the official Facebook blog. It states that they have decided to revert to their old terms of service in light of overwhelming customer feedback. I applaud their actions and reasoning. The most critical line from the blog entry is:

  • Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

I understand the reasons behind Facebook's changes in the first place, and as a free service they were not completely unexpected. It wasn't the changes themselves but more so their method and explanations. For an organization with as large a client base as Facebook to not see the big picture -- the overall implications -- of its changes is unforgivable. They would do well to take a close and hard look at the capabilities of those that made the decision and their ability to see beyond the first step or two afterwards. The explanations, while reasonable, were too little and too late. Had the original message contained those explanations as well as advance notice of the change, things may have turned out differently. Now, I am not saying that there wouldn't have been some uproar, but I truly believe it would have been a vocal minority and not so newsworthy.

In the end, it wasn't the protests of millions of users that forced Facebook to blink, it was the widespread press coverage. Nearly every new program, paper, and information outlet carried the story and those outlets reach people that Facebook covets -- the uninitiated. How easy is it to add subscribers when every news outlet has a story about the "underhanded" tactics and "secret changes" that the company makes. Many also resurrected the bad publicity surrounding Facebook's "Beacon" initiative some time ago, another issue that caused users to be concerned over their privacy on the service.

Mark Zuckerburg did the only thing he could do, return to the old terms. I hope he and his management team take away a valuable lesson on how to handle these sorts of changes in the future. According to the post, they plan to completely revamp the TOS, using plan and easy-to-understand language. They are even offering users an opportunity to get involved in crafting it. You've got to love the response.

More coverage can be found at:

CNET: Facebook backs down

PC World: Privacy Change Sparks Federal Complaint

PC World: Facebook's Zuckerburg Calms Privacy Fears over TOS Change 56 Percent of Facebook Users Want the Old ToS Back

NY Times: Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use

Balto Sun: Q&A On Facebook terms of service

CNN: Facebook backs down, reverses on user information policy

Wall Street Journal: Facebook Backs Away From Policy Change

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cutting Back on FaceBook [Updated]

At the beginning of February, FaceBook made a change to their Terms of Service. This change allows them to essentially own unlimited rights to your content. I am not a legal expert, but the language is pretty clear.

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.

There has been quite a bit of furor on various Internet forums about the change and I do know some people that have entirely closed their accounts over the matter. I am not yet inclined to go that far, but in many ways the damage seems to be done. The lesson from this for all Internet users is to pay very close attention to the terms of service on any site to which you post your original content, especially the free services. I had fallen into the trap of expecting to get a notice of such a change and the opportunity to act, but Facebook's terms don't require them to notify users of changes.

[Update: There is now a FaceBook Group to protest the change to the TOS. However, the multi-million member drive against the new design several months back didn't carry any weight with Mark Zuckerburg and company. Taking all of their efforts, ala Beacon, into account pretty much shows what they think about their user community.]

[Update: Mark Zuckerberg himself has posted on the FaceBook blog in response to the furor that has arisen over the changes to the Terms of Service. As benign as he makes it sound, and the explanation is reasonable, it does not change the wording of the legal document. Thus, my creative content will not be placed on FaceBook any longer.]

You can read some coverage of the changes at these links:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How to secure an empty building

There is an empty building just off a nearby highway. The building was once a house that is about a century old, is slated to be demolished to make way for a community shopping center. It was acquired by the developer along with a large swatch of property for new homes. The developer made a few upgrades and converted it into a sales center for the home builders. Once the first model home park was opened, it was closed. In the meantime, it sits empty and gets some perfunctory upkeep and maintenance.

I visited the property recently to grab some photographs of the building and surrounding property. On the whole, its not a very photogenic site but that doesn't mean that there aren't some interesting aspects to it. One thing that especially caught my attention was how this entryway was locked and protected.

How to keep out the curious How to keep out the curious
Of course, one has to wonder if it is a real warning and, if so, wouldn't it be secured with more than just a padlock? You can see the while Flickr set at this link.