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The Terms of Service Revolt, Facebook and the Higher Ed Community

A few short days ago, Facebook changed it’s Terms of Service to include some controversial language.
For those of you who don’t like legalese:
In sum, Facbook made its ToS so that your historical data and content survives you canceling your Facebook account. Then, in the face of usual user unrest, Facebook repealed.
For those of you who like to sort through legalese the exact legalese was at the bottom.
The privacy consicous Higher Ed blogosphere and the twittercliques were, needless to say, with the users that were up in arms.
I’m going to take a moment to say that 1) we would never take that kind of position at Inigral because we make relationships with institutions, as in enter into formal agreements; and 2) I can certainly understand how this happened and my faith in Facebook remains calm and steady.

This shift in ToS is understandable because, as a company, your legalese CYA can often be at odds with company policy. I’ve with spoken with hundreds of Facebook employees of different stripes, including Zuckerberg, and they are all fully committed to giving users the best possible user experience. A company’s legal protection does not have to be company practice, and their lawyer’s language does not reflect company intent. Facebook does not intend to post your embarrassing photos to your friends after you delete your Facebook account. It most likely just wants to solve three problems with this new language: 1) analyze what types of users choose to leave Facebook and strategize how can they provide them with a better experience so that less people do it, 2) minimize the risk of trace elements of your account being present in the system so that they are not liable for a childish message you sent someone when you were angry and now you’re embarrassed, and 3) making sure when you decide that without Facebook you simply can’t live a normal life and you rejoin Facebook there’s a low barrier for you jump back in. (FYI, I know people that have deleted and recreated their account more than 3 times.)
You can have the best customer service in the industry and still have a legal statement somewhere that says “We are in no way obligated to provide customer service.” The reason is that the lawyers who craft this language have seen too many lawsuits where someone sues literally because the company has a hole in their policies. And Facebook doesn’t want lawyers somewhere putting together a class action suit representing 150 million people just because their ToS wasn’t strong enough.
So, really now, while I understand making the statement to Facebook you want to be able to remove any of your content anytime you choose is understandable, but thinking Facebook is an evil empire is just not a conclusion that will hold water. Plus, it’s bound to cause you cognitive dissonance as you check your Facebook account for the tenth time today.
“You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.
The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.”


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