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Changing again

Facebook is at it again. Changing its terms of service again. It’s the third, maybe the fourth time this year.

As changes go, they’re fairly small and they’re more transparent than you’ll find with nearly any other website: not only did Facebook send out an email to all its users, it even provided redlined versions of the documents it wants to change so it’s easy to see what the changes are.

Still, Facebook is such a key part of social media — and its history of rolling out changes that its users detest is so consistent — that hackles went up immediately yesterday among the large genealogical community that uses Facebook when the email started hitting users’ accounts. After all, nothing good was going to be sent out in a notice on Thanksgiving Day, right?


But at least these particular changes aren’t particularly bad.

The redlined documents — which highlight the proposed changes in red so they stand out — can be found on the web page and every user ought to download them and read them. They’re under the Documents tab, with four links there — two for the documents without the redlining and two with:

     • Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
     • Proposed SRR Redline
     • Proposed Data Use Policy
     • Proposed Data Use Policy Redline

The Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is the basic overall document outlining Facebook’s terms of service — the contract that controls what users can and can’t do and what Facebook will and won’t do. Its Data Use Policy is where it tells you what happens — or can happen — with the information you put on Facebook. Both of these are things we all should review to understand just what it is we’ve gotten ourselves into in this social media world.

A key example of why we need to read and understand these terms is this one, right at the very start of the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

What that means is that anything we put on Facebook — anything we write, any photo we’ve taken, any video we’ve uploaded, anything at all — can be used by Facebook, without restrictions other than what we’ve set in our privacy settings. But if we’ve shared those items with someone else (and, um, why would we be on Facebook if we weren’t sharing?), then even if we delete it from our account and even if we delete our entire account, that material will stay on Facebook essentially forever.

Think about it. And sit down with your teenagers, please. That racy photo, that one of the beer-guzzling party, that very foolish factual disclosure — once shared, it’s out there forever.

And when we set up an account with Facebook, we’re giving them permission in the Data Use Policy to use data about us in very broad ways:

We use the information we receive about you in connection with the services and features we provide to you and other users like your friends, our partners, the advertisers that purchase ads on the site, and the developers that build the games, applications, and websites you use. For example, in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you:
• as part of our efforts to keep Facebook products, services and integrations safe and secure;
• to protect Facebook’s or others’ rights or property;
• to provide you with location features and services, like telling you and your friends when something is going on nearby;
• to measure or understand the effectiveness of ads you and others see, including to deliver relevant ads to you;
• to make suggestions to you and other users on Facebook, such as: suggesting that your friend use our contact importer because you found friends using it, suggesting that another user add you as a friend because the user imported the same email address as you did, or suggesting that your friend tag you in a picture they have uploaded with you in it; and
• for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.

None of this is being changed under the proposed changes we all got notice of yesterday.

The changes being proposed are, for the most part, pretty small. For example, in its proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook proposes now to let users use their personal timelines occasionally for their commercial purposes rather than insisting that every single commercial mention be on a separate page. In the proposed Data Use Policy, Facebook proposes to let anyone start an email contact with you via any message thread — previously users had some control over who could do that.

There’s a lot of effort to making clear what we already know, such as liking a page of a political group means getting a lot of political action on the pages we see.

There are only two changes that I can see that are not so small:

     • One is that Facebook is dumping the system of letting users vote on changes to these policies — it says it already allows users to comment on proposed changes and the voting system promoted quantity of comments rather than quality. Frankly, most users never paid attention to the voting anyway, and it’s unlikely than any multinational corporation is going to run the core of its business that way in the long run. That’s in the proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and is cross-referenced in the proposed Data Use Policy.

     • The other is that Facebook is reserving the right to share users’ data with outside vendors to “conduct and publish research” along with all the other reasons why it might use our data. That’s in the proposed Data Use Policy. It’s a bit troubling since there aren’t any limits on the kind of research, and while all vendors must agree to protect individual users’ privacy, I for one would rather not have my casual comments used for research purposes when I don’t have any say over who’s doing it, for what reason.

And, of course, if we don’t like this, and can’t convince Facebook otherwise by the deadline for comments on 28 November, our only option is to leave.

Leaving our data previously shared behind.

Welcome to the Brave New World.

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