February 21, 2009

Things I didn't know last week - February 21st 2009

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This is a post in a regular weekly series about things I've learned or come to realise during the previous week.

This week "Your on-line data: It's worth something to somebody"

Most people on the internet today have seen the furore that arose when Facebook changed their terms of service to, effectively, say "We own everything you put on there in perpetuity - even if you no longer use Facebook". The uproar was actually so loud across the social media networks that Facebook did an abrupt about-face the following day and reverted back to their old TOS until they could figure out a proper solution (The cynic in me takes that to mean 'until we can work out how to slip the new terms in under the radar without causing such a big furore'...)

There are several facets to this story that I could discuss but one strikes me in particular. It comes from a response post written by Alexander Van Elsa which, basically picks apart Mark Zuckerberg's response to the uproar. Zuckerberg said "We only need these terms of service so that we can provide the service to you as stated. We won't do anything you wouldn't want with your stuff" (Yeah, and the check's in the post...)

The problem with this, as Van Elsa states, is that Facebook is a free (though ad supported) network which has to raise it's money somehow.

As Van Elsa says in his post:

The questions Mark should have answered are the following:

What exactly does Facebook do with all the user data has been collected on Facebook, and how exactly does it monetize that, even after a user has deleted his or her account?

I could care less about the information I share with others via Facebook. That sharing process is a conscious act. I know that if I share that whatever gets shared is out of my control. What I do not know is what Facebook does with that information. Why do they tap into all of my interactions and my data? What do they store, and how do they monetize that exactly? If I set my privacy settings as strict as possible do they still see everything? How is that data being used outside of Facebook? Do 3rd parties get access to that information as well, even if I do not want them too?

It's an interesting point: We supply this data to an application that needs to find a way to monetize. They state clearly that they hold the rights to re-use that data elsewhere. It's also worth remembering that most 'free' on-line services work on a similar model: you enter data or information, the service stores it and in various configurations it is used again. Now the difference is that a lot of other on-line services do not have this killer "It's all ours" clause on their TOS's. Youtube, in fact, specifically states that it has NO claim to your on-line data (As a way of removing itself from liability on things such as copyright infringement and IP theft)

So strip away all the niceties that Zuckerberg is spouting. Ignore the fact that he's cloaking all this in words which try to imply that it's all in the best interests of the end users: The fact of the matter is, Facebook can monetise using your data and there's nothing you can do.

On-line privacy be damned.....

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