Tue 17 Feb 2009
OMG, I'm the gajillionth blogger to write a post about Facebook's change to their terms of service. In a nutshell, they now reserve the right to keep and use your data even when you stop using Facebook and cancel your account. Eek! Fodder for privacy debate!
From my point of view, the interesting part is the metaphor we use to think about it. In Mark Zuckerberg's blog post defending the change, he says this:
When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work.
Touche, Mr. Zuckerberg. I see what you're getting at, but this is not the right metaphor. The real question is, when I send you a letter in the mail, does the postal service get to keep it and use it how they see fit? In the world of email, do the mail servers my message passes through get to log all the traffic, mine it for profit? Let's hope not.
But that metaphor doesn't quite work either, depending on how you see the issue of what services Facebook provides. So let's try a different one. If you make a bunch of copies of a photo of yourself – let's say you, wearing a funny hat, marker on your face, drunk as hell – and post them on public bulletin boards all over town, what rights do you have to your photo if you want to go back on the whole thing?
To Zuckerberg's credit, I think he rightly points out that there's nothing easy about all this, and the privacy issues are far from clear cut. I also think these little scuffles, which from my POV have few direct implications, are most important because they force us to reconcile these issues, which will only be more common as time goes on. What expectations is it reasonable for us to have when we put our data out into the cloud? What rights does a company that provides us with a free, valuable service have to the information we pass through it? Is Facebook more like a postal service or a bulletin board? The answer is likely to be both. Oh boy.