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And it’s basically no big deal

So here we are, once again facing a long email and pop-up notices and more from Facebook with changes to its terms of use that will take effect on 1 January 2015.

FB2014Terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”1 In this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the Facebook service and, if we do, what rights we’re giving Facebook.

Now as savvy online genealogists we all know that we should read every last word of the terms of use and understand them before we agree to them by using a website.

And as human beings in a technological age we still generally just click through because, after all, what choice do we have? If we want to use Facebook — and we do — we have to agree to the changes.

So what are we agreeing to this time?

Nothing that’s a whole lot different from what we’ve agreed to in the past. There are some changes — the biggest one being the way the information is presented (many fewer words overall but spread out over a number of different glitzy pages that you have to click to in order to read everything)2 — but not a lot of substantive changes at all.

Key things to pay attention to:

• Facebook makes it clear that its terms apply across the board to a whole host of companies it owns or operates unless there are specific additional terms. So, for example, the new mobile apps like Slingshot, Rooms, and Groups are all covered by these terms. But WhatsApp and Instagram still have their own terms of use if you use those as well as Facebook.

• The terms serve to remind us about location services and how they work. If you have location services turned on in any device you use, Facebook will “use it to tailor our Services for you and others, like helping you to check-in and find local events or offers in your area or tell your friends that you are nearby.”

• The terms also serve to remind us just how much information Facebook gets from things like location services: whenever we access Facebook, it collects “information from or about the computers, phones, or other devices where you install or access our Services, depending on the permissions you’ve granted. We may associate the information we collect from your different devices, which helps us provide consistent Services across your devices. Here are some examples of the device information we collect:

• Attributes such as the operating system, hardware version, device settings, file and software names and types, battery and signal strength, and device identifiers.
• Device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth, or WiFi signals.
• Connection information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, browser type, language and time zone, mobile phone number and IP address.”

• On the plus side, there’s a newly-separate and fairly readable Privacy Basics section where it should be easier to set preferences on what you do and don’t want people to see.

• Also on the plus side, a decision about advertising on one device (your home computer, say) will now carry over to your other devices (your phone or tablet).

• On the probably-not-a-plus side, we’re about to see a Buy button appear on ads and other locations around Facebook. The company says it’s “testing a Buy button that helps people discover and purchase products without leaving Facebook. We’re also working on new ways to make transactions even more convenient.” And any time you do buy something on Facebook, it will “collect information about the purchase or transaction. This includes your payment information, such as your credit or debit card number and other card information, and other account and authentication information, as well as billing, shipping and contact details.”

So… nothing earth-shattering. Just the usual collecting every bit of information they can about every aspect of your life in order to package you up for advertisers.

As always, know what you’re agreeing to.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014).
  2. I will say that by fragmenting the terms into lots of difference documents with click-throughs to details it’s made it darned hard to figure out what the differences are. Bleah.
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