'Facebook users still lack data-control'
Although Facebook has announced that it will drop the controversial revisions of its user Terms of Service (TOS), experts have claimed that the reversal of policies would still not provide users with complete privacy over their data.tech reviews Updated: Feb 20, 2009 12:09 IST
Although Facebook has announced that it will drop the controversial revisions to its user Terms of Service (TOS), experts have claimed that the reversal of policies would still not provide users with complete privacy over their data.
The social-networking giant came under fire after Consumer advocacy blog The Consumerist reported that the revised policy allowed the website to hold a perpetual license to use its members'' uploaded content to promote itself, even after their accounts had been deleted.
But following a petition by outraged and constant media scrutiny, Facebook decided to revert back to the original TOS in order to escape threats of legal action from civil liberties campaigners.
However, now experts have claimed that in terms of the power it holds over users' data, Facebook has actually lost very little.
"The current Facebook change causing all the fuss is pretty minimal," New Scientist magazine quoted Lilian Edwards, a specialist in Internet Law at the University of Sheffield as saying.
According to the site's terms and conditions, the company holds a licence to "use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute" any user content, "for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise".
"Basically they have always grabbed all your data, now it just means you don't "get it back" if you delete your profile. But that's pretty meaningless as, once your data's got to third parties, it's out there forever," said Edwards.
Simon Halberstam, head of social networking law at Weblaw, the e-commerce arm of London law firm, Sprecher Grier Halberstam, has said that the company has little choice but to control users' data.
"All of the value in these sites is in the user data," he said.
He said that majority of social networks maintain similar policies on user data for the same reason. And, the small alteration to the terms and conditions is part of a continuing effort to maximise the earnings from user data.
"Investors might be getting agitated and impatient with Facebook's failure to capitalise on the user content they have captured. If they can increase their ability to use that data, including provision thereof to third parties, it makes everyone who has invested in the company much happier," he said.
It means that Facebook is again embroiled in an unnecessary controversy, says Ian Brown at Oxford University's Internet Institute.
"I don't think they were trying to do anything underhand. The mistake they made was to change the terms and conditions without any discussion, without flagging this up to users - and it has blown up in their faces," he said.
And although, there has been an outrage among users, it's unlikely that the altered conditions would have applied to those already using the site.
"If you've signed up to Facebook and the terms and conditions were specifically set out at the time, those are the terms and conditions by which you're bound," said Halberstam.
And till the time Facebook asks users to re-subscribe to a new agreement, any edits to the user agreement will only apply to new subscribers.
"There may be something in the original terms and conditions to which users agreed saying Facebook is entitled to change the conditions from time to time, but that's probably unenforceable under European law," added Halberstam.
First Published: Feb 20, 2009 11:52 IST