You have a problem with authority, Mr Anderson…

16Feb09

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, worldwide license to use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, scan, reformat, modify, edit, adapt, create derivative works and distribute, any user content you post on or in connection with the Facebook Service.

That’s paraphrased directly from Facebook’s new terms and conditions, which – as you can imagine – has caused not a small amount of discussion in the world of social media. From expelled students and Royal breakups to its over-intrusive Beacon platform, Facebook has been courting controversy rather more than it might like to admit over the last 12 months. On top of this, the social network has yet to answer questions around data portability in a convincing way. While reception to its interoperability platform “Connect” was positive, their spokesperson at Le Web in Paris was rightly called out by Michael Arrington for paying little more than lip service to the idea of open standards in social media. At its core, Facebook remains a walled garden and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

These new T&Cs don’t help its cause one bit, but while those “in the know” will tut and shake their heads in despair, it’s unlikely that the average Facebook user will notice any difference at first – so why should they care? Well why not compare this attitude with Flickr’s “if it’s not public, it’s all yours” content policy – which, incidentally, terminates should you remove it from the site unlike the new FB small-print.

It seems that in the world of social media there’s an ideological debate going on where companies on the statist Left want to control and take ownership of content, while the open-source Right takes a more libertarian approach to it all. Of course there’s a balance to be struck, but this recent development only strengthens the argument of those who shy away from social media for fear details about their lives being controlled by or falling into the wrong hands. But perhaps the social network should be more concerned about the “what-if” factor… as an established consumer brand around the world, if FB trips itself up through misuse of the new “agreement” any time soon, you can expect the backlash to go beyond the online media set to its core audience of (so-far) contented everyday users.

This post was originally written for James Poulter‘s Monday Mocha Musings, and can also be found at Shiny Red.

UPDATE (18/02/09): Facebook has since reverted to its old ToS, see the blog post here. The company has “decided to take a new approach” towards developing its terms. I wonder what that means.

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