Facebook users win battle over networks’ legal terms

By Britany Wright
February 26, 2009

Recently Facebook fought and lost a battle to consumers about jargon they used in their new legal terms of use. It was found in the terms of use that the Web site is allowed to keep users’ content and licenses, even if the account is terminated.

After a barrage of complaints, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive, has agreed to allow Facebook users to have an active say in the revision of the legal terms.

The reason there was so much confusion among users was because a whole passage from the original terms of service had been deleted saying how their content would be taken out at the point of termination of an account.

“They didn’t advertise the change a lot. I received a message two weeks after the switch saying there had been a change to the terms and conditions, but not what it was,” Christina Mastro, senior graphic design major, said.

It wasn’t until the online consumer advocacy blog, The Consumerist had spotted the changes made to the legal terms of use and generated an uproar against the legal department of Facebook.

The blog was written by senior writer Chris Walters who generated tons of publicity for the blog site in the three-day battle of legal terms.

In protest many users deleted their Facebook account, so the Web site could no longer have ownership of the personal photographs, notes and comments posted on former friends’ walls.

Many users are still unaware that Facebook had ever made a change to their terms of service.

Danielle McLaughlin, freshman communication major, said, “I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

It was weird because that day they had sent me a warning that one of my pictures wasn’t appropriate and my pictures are set to private.”

Ben Popken, co-executive editor of The Consumerist reported that Zuckerberg said, “We wouldn’t use your content in a way you wouldn’t want, but there’s reality and there’s lawyers.”

Users began to create public groups that fought the new legal terms. Odds are that when many users created a Facebook, they didn’t read through all of the terms of use, but even so, one should receive notices as to when those terms have changed.

Facebook as a whole has made users less aware of the content that they post online. This upset may lead to users being more cautious with posting personal information that could fall into the wrong hands.

“I thought they were already doing stuff [keeping people’s photos and information] like that. I guess Facebook is even creepier than it was before. That’s almost borderline illegal,” Liz Lavin, senior English and communication major, said.

However, in the last revision of the legal terms posted on its Web site on Sept. 23, 2008, Facebook says, “We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change, modify, add or delete portions of these Terms of Use at any time without further notice. If we do this, we will post the changes to these Terms of Use on this page and will indicate at the top of this page the date these terms were last revised.

“Your continued use of the service or the site after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new Terms of Use. If you do not agree to abide by these or any future Terms of Use, do not use or access or continue to use or access the service or the site. It is your responsibility to regularly check the site to determine if there have been changes to these Terms of Use and to review such changes.”

The privacy policy goes into detail about how once users submit personal information it becomes a part of their system. It even continues to say, “By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.”

As a social network, the Web site has submitted that if the site operators know of information of the user in newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services and by other users of the site, it will be made aware to the user.

For the past five years it has been described as an online phenomena that young adults and older adults use for social and business networking, which has allowed users to feel as if they had ultimate control over the information that they post online.

The Web site previously in only the past year, host of 175 million active members, has undergone a “facial” re-construction.

Users reacted strongly to its “facial” re-construction by creating myriad of groups demanding an option to use the old Facebook again.

Temporarily, the users won and were given time to have the option to use the old Facebook design before it would be taken away.

The same basic principles that the site has established may not continue if Zuckerberg decides to sell or turn over ownership in some way. Popken said, “All that philosophy is gone and all that remains in the legal language.”

From now on, this debacle serves as a reminder that however basic the legal terms and service and privacy policy may seem, that it is best to read through them before posting personal information.

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Britany Wright

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