Facebook: “we’re keeping your data for your friends’ sake!”

So Facebook changed their terms of service so they can keep and distribute your data forever, even if you delete your account. It seems that they will factor in your privacy preferences, but I’m not a lawyer and I’m not sure how ironclad that provision is. What seems to be clear is that they keep your data if you delete your account.

Now, there are many many ways in which a company can screw up in good faith when writing terms of use. Google screwed up with their Google Chrome Terms of Use, but it was really an honest screwup due to copy-and-paste, and they fixed it quickly. However, it looks like Facebook knew exactly what they were doing, as Mark Zuckerberg says:

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

I see, so Facebook is trying to protect my friends from me. That’s nice. So, if me and all of my friends leave Facebook, then surely Facebook should delete my data, right, since no one left on Facebook has access to it. Right?

Zuckerberg is correct that deleting my data sucks if my friends are using Facebook as their addressbook, and my contact information is deleted because I left Facebook. But that’s my choice, not Facebook’s. Warn me about the consequences, then let me do my thing.

Now, if Facebook is really trying to solve this problem of shared-data ownership, which I agree is interesting, there’s a far superior approach. Add to the TOS that any Facebook user with whom I share content gets a license to that content. So, my contact information gets copied into their addressbook, and if I leave they still have a license to that data and they can keep it in their own Facebook account if they want. Heck, technically my friends need the license anyways if they want to download and print the photos I share with them. Then, if I’ve shared some content with only one or two friends, and we all leave Facebook, then no one on Facebook has a copy of that content or a license to it, and it naturally goes away for good.

It’s possible Facebook really wants to solve this problem well, in which case I hope they pursue a direction of friend-to-friend content licensing. It’s possible this “think of your friends!” response is genuine and not just a convenient excuse for a user-data landgrab.

But let’s remember that Facebook still doesn’t let you easily share your email address with applications, or easily export your data to another service, no matter how badly you want it. They’re interested in user control only insofar as it doesn’t damage their data lock-in. Until Facebook provides better data portability, it’s difficult to see how this change in the TOS is really for the users’ sake.

4 thoughts on “Facebook: “we’re keeping your data for your friends’ sake!”

  1. All your f.b. tweets are belong to us.

    It’s one of those things… we had our chance to jump back during the beacon fiasco, but darn it, how will I know when the boys across the pond reach level 19 in mob wars?

    On a related but unrelated topic, I thought this was amusing: using infectious disease as model for the recent “25 things about me” f.b. meme.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2211068

  2. All your f.b. tweets are belong to us.

    It’s one of those things… we had our chance to jump back during the beacon fiasco, but darn it, how will I know when the boys across the pond reach level 19 in mob wars?

    On a related but unrelated topic, I thought this was amusing: using infectious disease as model for the recent “25 things about me” f.b. meme.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2211068

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