Recently, the internet was abuzz with comments over Facebook’s new terms of service.  Due to user uproar, Facebook reverted to the terms of service from September 23, 2008.  Users were relieved.  However, how much of a relief is it really?  Over the next few days, I am going to analysis the September terms of service to see whether it is really much better or not.

To begin with, not many people actually read the terms of service.  For sites where users upload a lot of content, like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, this can give a great advantage to the owners of the site because they can put clauses in that affect the ownership rights of their users.  This is exactly what Facebook did.  Had it not been for other social media sites such as Twitter, this may have gone by unnoticed.  So let us go through the September TOS.

The first paragraph states that whether you are a member or not, if you access the site, post information to the site, have a share button to Facebook on your site (i.e. a share button on your blog) you agree to the terms of service.  In addition, Facebook reserves the right to change the terms of service at any point in time without notification (other than the posting of a new TOS on their site).  If you use the site after the changes, you agree to agree to the changes.  Facebook makes it your responsibility to check the site.

So, is this a problem?  It depends on what you use Facebook for.  I personally use it to keep in touch with friends and some business people.  Other than pictures from trips and of my dogs, I don’t post a whole bunch that I worry about sharing the copyright with someone.  Whether they want to post the Top 48 things you didn’t know about me on their site or not, I don’t really care.  For me, as long as the service remains a way for me to stay in touch with those I want to for free, I am fine with having to check the TOS every now and then.

However, for someone that is posting their portfolio of artwork, be it artistic pictures or website designs, their literary creations, or information they want to remain private on Facebook, a sudden change in the TOS could result in a big problem.  If Facebook stated that they were going to sell all the information on the site to commercial groups, this would be a problem.  This would mean that someone that was going to sell his or her pictures themselves might not be competing with Facebook to sell the same picture.

The answer to whether this is a problem depends on how you use Facebook.  It is always wise, just like with any site, to keep a backup of anything you put on it.  It is wise to check the TOS from time to time to see if it has changed.  If you are just an average user who uses it like I do, you may decide like I did that the intro to the TOS isn’t that big of deal.  However, if you use it for other things, such as showing off your portfolio, it may be wise to consider if you want to keep using it for that reason or not.

Watch for tomorrow’s post where I start to review the meat of the document!