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Who owns your social graph?

2591366230_6ec445b68f I'm hearing lots of people freaking out today - in blog posts and Twitter - about Facebook's recent changes to their Terms of Service (TOS) and how this impacts your privacy and the content you post there.

Essentially, Facebook removed this phrase from their TOS:

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

Essentially this means that any content you upload there is Facebook's property, forever. Yup, they own it, and they can do whatever they want with it in the future. Even if you cancel your account, according to this snippet from the TOS:

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.

I'm not as panicked about this (or even surprised) as some people are, because I believe you should always understand the Terms of Service implications of social networks as you explore them. I understand, it's asking a lot to read all that legal verbiage before you sign up. Inside Facebook, you've never actually owned your Social Graph - the company does.

Blogger Chris Brogan points out in a recent post that both banks and health insurance companies own your records, so it should come as no shock that Facebook owns what you put on their servers. Brogan also reminds us that every Web service owns our data to varying degrees, whether it's Facebook, Google Docs, Twitter, Dopplr, et cetera.

In summary, if you're really concerned about the change of verbiage on Facebook's TOS, go out and research the terms of every social application you interact with. Another general rule: Don't upload anything you wouldn't want them to own.

What are your thoughts? Are you less inclined to share on Facebook after this news, and will it impact your social networking habits?

Photo credit: adactio via Flickr


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Nice post Nate,

Actually though, you still own all of your material. You are merely giving FaceBook a LICENSE to use it for whatever they want. You still have the right to reuse, repost or license your material. It is just that FaceBook can do all those things with your material too.


Hi Nathan,

I agree people should read TOS and think about how they interact with social media. Good advice to take no matter what the latest worry is about Facebook.

Me personally, I find Facebook scary from a privacy and copyright perspective. Thus I've stayed away from it from the beginning.

That said, I'm not falling for the argument that a lot of people are making about Facebook's TOS. I've read a lot of "everyone else owns your content, so quit worrying about Facebook". That type of argument doesn't explain why Facebook's TOS should be deemed OK.

Also there is very little content that I publish to banks and insurance companies. In fact, their sole function is to create content by tracking my money or use of services. Of course they own that all that data - and I want them to.

For now, places like Twitter have much more user-friendly TOS. But as usual, those TOS could change quickly.

Today Facebook reversed the changes it made in its TOS:


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