Continuing the conversation about the blogosphere and social media.
Image: Ali T via Flickr
Do you remember Friendster? It seems to have morphed into a gaming site, but a long time ago, it was Facebook for everyone who couldn’t get onto Facebook because they were too old.
Sites — like restaurants or stores — open and close all the time. If they’re part of our daily world, it makes us sad because it signals change. Though if we rarely frequented the site or restaurant or store, it doesn’t really factor beyond a sigh.
But it should. At least, it should when it comes to social media sites where we have an account.
When a restaurant closes, it may sell off its tables and ovens and cookware. When a store closes, it may sell off its merchandise. And when an online site closes, well, if it’s in their terms of service, they can technically sell off… you. Your data. Your IP or intellectual property, which are your words and images.
Let’s take the case of Facebook, a solid giant who is going nowhere soon. Maybe. I mean, we have no clue if they’re going nowhere soon. They could announce tomorrow that the site is underwater, and they’re going to bail.
What you upload right now to Facebook exists under the rules of the existing site, which are also subject to change at any time. Even if they don’t change, you have given Facebook (and a lot of other sites have this caveat too) a transferable license to your “IP” or intellectual property.
By using or accessing Facebook, you agree to this Statement, as updated from time to time in accordance with Section 14 below.
- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
- When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
To put that in simple English: we can use now or in the future anything you upload to Facebook. If you delete it, it’s not really gone. And in case you were wondering, Facebook will not officially give a range to a “reasonable period of time” when asked. Which most likely means, “indefinitely.”
The part that gives me pause is the concept of transferability. Because while Facebook may afford me certain privacy settings, what if Facebook enters a time period when they are trying to make their company solvent after financial collapse and they sell off their archive? That is what happens with restaurants and stores — they sell off their merchandise. And in this case, our data and our IP is what would be for sale. Our data is what makes Facebook valuable in the first place. What if the new site doesn’t believe in privacy settings, and everything I wrote over the years and every image I uploaded is suddenly made available to the public? And what if this new company removes the delete button. What then?
Is this far-fetched. Yes. But does it inform the way I use the site: absolutely. The only site I trust is my blog, and that is because I own it. I know it’s public. And I take comfort in knowing that boundary definitively. Whereas I don’t really know the boundaries with Facebook. They could be here, they could be there… and it’s the not knowing that makes me uncomfortable.
There are those who say that our data or IP shouldn’t be the tradeoff for using a site like Facebook, but here’s the thing. We’re not owed a Facebook. We’re not owed a free Facebook where they host us and pay for our space on their servers and get nothing in return. Restaurants don’t give us food out of the goodness of their hearts and stores don’t hand us jeans just because they like the cut of our jib. They charge us. And in the case of Facebook, the free site isn’t really free even if they never ask for money. They ask you to pay in your data and IP. You pay by giving up your privacy.
Do you ever consider the impermanence of sites? Would you be comfortable right now with everything you’ve uploaded to Facebook if they sell their archives in the future and everything behind privacy settings suddenly becomes public?