So remember the big hubbub over Facebook’s ever-changing Terms of Service (TOS) last year? Remember how Zuckerberg & co tried to say that they didn’t “own” your data…they just licensed it? And remember how most of us in the blogosphere made the point that regardless if they “owned” it they still had an all-encompassing, perpetual license to do whatever the hell they wanted with it (including sub-license it and store copies of it on their servers)? Well, Facebook would like to send a friendly reminder that at the end of the day, they’ve still got your data by the proverbial balls.
Firstly, let’s get one annoying question out of the way–YES your data is valuable. No, not those embarrassing undergrad photos of you in varying stages of indiscretion, I’m talking about your EAR data: explicit (what you say about yourself), activity (what you do online) and relationship (who you are connected to and what that says about you). This is the good stuff. This is what is worth having ex-DARPA and InQTel members on your board. This is, from a marketer’s perspective, the motherlode, worth its weight in gold. Remember that Facebook, for all intents and purposes, is not so much a “social network” (the web itself is a “social network”), but rather one of the largest databases of rich (read: valuable) highly personal identity data. That said, when it comes to wanting to abandon the hyper-connected, techno-cognitive nomadism of the social networking life, it may not be as easy as you thought.
In a recent post by USA Today on the growing trend of online de-socializing, they highlighted several popular sites that allow users to erase their identity data from the social nets in one fell swoop. Sites like Web 2.0 Suicide Machine and Seppukoo are growing in popularity as people are swapping the Tweeting and Facebooking for what can only be assumed to be actual human socializing. The problem? Facebook is none too happy with this trend and third party removal of user identity data from Facebook. They have gone so far as to block the servers of both sites and send cease-and-desist letters stating that they violate Facebook’s statement of rights and responsibilities policies by collecting user login data. As USA Today reports, Twitter, on the other hand, has “no issues with people who want to leave,” says spokesman Seth Garrett. “Our research shows that quite often they come back later.”
So why exactly does Facebook care about these sites wiping your data? Well let’s go back to that TOS change that happened last year. There was a very specific, unsettling part of the TOS that Facebook’s crackerjack spin team glossed over in their much publicized red-herring of a response to the outcry. There is a clause on removal of identity information that first appeared in the first revision of the TOS that stated:
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.
This was also reinforced by the “Termination” section:
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.
The TOS now states, though with no less assurity that Facebbook is indeed keeping copies of your info, the following:
Limitations on removal. Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, it was otherwise distributed pursuant to your privacy settings, or it was copied or stored by other users. However, your name will no longer be associated with that information on Facebook. (For example, if you post something to another user’s profile, and then you delete your account, that post may remain, but be attributed to an “Anonymous Facebook User.”) Additionally, we may retain certain information to prevent identity theft and other misconduct even if deletion has been requested.
Keep in mind, these data-clearing sites are not even actually deleting your accounts, just wiping your profiles clean of information. They are also allegedly collecting user login information, and having access to a user’s account, could theoretically collect all the associated data too. This is the part that is perhaps at the heart of Facebook’s beef with them.
As pointed out before, your data is Facebook’s golden ticket. It’s fine if you choose to leave and “delete” your account (ostensibly along with all your associated data), so long as it is on their terms. And essentially their terms means you can’t really ever be deleted. They’ll always have a copy somewhere hidden away on some dusty server. It is perhaps most unnerving to realize that we truly don’t control our online identities. There is hope though, the DataPortability Project is an organization which advocates for total user control over their identity data across social networks (including the ability to “port” one’s identity to other sites and services without having to go through the process of registration, re-friending and uploading content), and to date many of the major networks have joined the DataPortability Project. The Project is working to create a universal End User Lisencing Agreement and TOS for social networks, as well as educate users on the importance of their data and how to take action towards gaining full control of it.
Now, the reality of Facebook doing anything truly malicious with your data is highly unlikely– and certainly they wouldn’t do anything more with your identity data than what your credit card companies already do. But still, where’s your “Don’t Be Evil” slogan, Facebook?
As the Social Media Evangelist at the award-winning, full-service digital agency iCrossing, Alisa Leonard oversees the development and performance of the agency’s social media service offerings as well as directs strategy for client social media engagements. She is a frequent industry speaker and has been cited in, and contributed to, such leading publications as AdAge, Adweek, Sillicon Alley Insider, CNET and ReadWriteWeb. She was named to AdWeek’s Top 50 Marketing Twitterers to Follow and DMNews’ “30 Under 30″ (both in 2008). Alisa also currently serves as the Chair of Communications for the Data Portability Project, an organization driving thought leadership around the future of the social web. Find her writing at her blog, The Web Is Social, and on Twitter at @alisamleo.