Facebook users worldwide protest site’s controversial privacy practices

You didn’t actually read through the Facebook Terms of Use webpage when you signed up for a Facebook account, did you?

By my count, it’s more than 3,700 words of legal mumbo jumbo (lots of “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive,” you get the idea). And all you wanted to do was post some photos from your vacation or list 25 random things about yourself that people really needed to know.

Heck, that “I Accept” click was probably just one of many online terms-of-service buttons you’ve clicked on during the past several years.

But did you know that Facebook updated its terms of use in early February and deleted one important provision: the ability for users to remove their content at any time?

Were you aware of that? Did you also know that Facebook would retain the rights to your content even after you closed your account? To do what with? Who knows?

The website Consumerist broke the news on the changes, blasting this piece of information: “Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.

Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want.”

A small, but vocal online protest among the estimated 150 million to 175 million Facebook users worldwide has already begun.

There are many 21st century social-networking questions at issue here, and right now most of the answers are murky, at best: highly debatable privacy and data-ownership issues that will likely take a while to resolve because this is all still so new a medium.

(For the record, Facebook told the Industry Standard that “We are not claiming and have never claimed ownership of material that users upload,” and that Facebook still respects users’ privacy settings. CEO Mark Zuckerberg blogged that “Our philosophy is that people own their information and control whom they share it with.“)

Just so I’m upfront about this: I have not joined Facebook despite the intense peer pressure-pretty much everyone I know (including my Mom!) has his or her own FB page.

A year ago, I outlined all of my reasons for why I was just saying no to Facebook. I followed that up with a post noting that Bill Gates was also now saying no to Facebook, and this was a guy whose company had invested $240 million in the social networking phenomenon.

I’m not anti-social-media. I’m anti-time-wasting.

Regardless of how this particular brew-ha-ha plays out, there are a couple of important things all social-media users should remember.

First, Facebook’s need to further monetize the site and commercially mine the data and interactions between its millions of FB devotees was going to happen sooner or later.

So to all the FB users, I say: What did you think was going to happen to that highly personalized data that you put up for your friends to see? (There are, of course, the Engagement Ads now, but clearly marketers want more.)

All of that information that you willingly posted is a marketer’s dream: Those tidbits about your likes, dislikes, favorite musicians, foods and hobbies. What about the real-time interactions that marketers can have with you about your preferences and opinions? Good God, that’s what every CMO drools over. And it’s all right there!

eMarketer wrote about a rumored new advertising model in which Facebook would start selling user data to market researchers in spring 2009. The service would enable advertisers to ask FB users questions on certain topics. (A Facebook spokesperson downplays that to eMarketer.)

“Facebook’s Engagement Ads polling feature may be a precursor to a more full-blown market research program-one that Facebook isn’t quite ready to talk about yet,” noted eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson, in the eMarketer article.

“Social network profiles are a treasure trove of information about consumer preferences, and people talk about brands and products frequently. The key will be making sure consumers know how the information is used.”

According to eMarketer, both LinkedIn and MySpace Music have already taken advantage of their users’ data. In January, for instance, LinkedIn introduced polls that allow members to gather insight from targeted groups, starting at $50-and for free within the member’s own network, noted the article.

I’m not one to admonish anyone for not giving a lawyerly read to those “terms of service” agreement web pages. (I just refinanced my mortgage, and I barely read the dozens of documents I signed.)

What I’m saying is that the real-world business demands Facebook executives now face will ultimately translate into some kind of commercially-viable advertising mechanism that may alter the underlying community-first tenets that made FB so engaging to so many.

“At least for now, an underlying fact remains,” notes the eMarketer article. “Facebook has the herds-some 150 million users around the world, with 450,000 added daily-and now it’s time to bring in the cash cow.” Mooooooooooooooooo.

Source: CIO.com

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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