In Financial Express, Press

Facebook recently kicked up a huge storm over the privacy debate when it tweaked its terms and conditions a bit. The tweak may have been small but its repercussions were so huge and Facebook had to retract the changes immediately.

So, what did Facebook do? Simple, it said it now owns anything you post on its website. It wants to have the right to use your content, including your photos, your writings, and your friends’ contact details for whatever purpose, including advertising. And it can use it forever, even if you delete your account.

Actually, it looks a lot more scary if you read the clause in legalese. You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicence) to:

* Use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any user content you post on or in connection with the Facebook service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or enable a user to post, including by offering a Share Link on your website;

* Use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising. And that’s just one part of the clause

With so much legalese thrown at you, it’s no wonder people got nervous. Facebook eventually buckled, when it noticed the huge user uproar and mass deletions of accounts.

In this article, I’d like to take a balanced debate over the entire privacy issue. So, I asked my blog readers to voice their honest opinion on what they think of it. Anirudh certainly isn’t happy with someone else claiming ownership over his creation. He says, “If you create something, then you are the owner of it. As the creator, you have the full right to decide who to show or share it with. Facebook now is forcefully trying to take my data that I created”.

Chinamyi, a popular singer in AR Rahman’s troupe, says that it’s for precisely this reason that she will never upload and share the music she creates on sites like Facebook. I can sense the bitterness when she opines, “We are not used to intellectual property rights. We are used to being exploited, not credited, not paid for, especially in the creative field. That’s where most of the plagiarism exists”.

There are folks who understand the rationale behind Facebook’s move. Rish G says, Facebook is not wrong in claiming that it owns your content. “The terms of service are similar to those when you join a company–you sign an agreement that says anything that you create/invent/develop is proprietary to the company. You join Facebook, anything that you write or post would by default be owned by Facebook. Heck, it’s their servers. If one is worried is that whatever they write is owned by Facebook, they are free to create their websites and own what they write by adding the copyright disclaimer.”

To me, it sounded like a very valid argument. Another reader, Pratiksha wants people to ‘chill’ and not over react. She points out that the Facebook clause does not say it owns your data and it only says it wants to use your data. In other words, it’s like you are granting Facebook a non-exclusive licence and as the creator, you can still use the data however you want.

Anuradha points out that the fundamental problem crops up when we don’t bother to read the terms and conditions. She asks, “How many of us read the T&C before agreeing to install software or open a mail/blog/file sharing account?” The answer, sadly, is almost none. And I’m not surprised why. Why would anyone want to read 16 pages of long, verbose legal speak which is written not to be understood.

Kausik warns that there might be more serious terms tucked in between the swarm of legal speak. Ram thinks that the entire issue is overblown and a big media hype. A few others, who are indifferent to the entire brouhaha, wonder what’s there to make a fuss. They argue that we all created a bigger ruckus on privacy when GMail started placing contextual ads in our email messages. But we still continue to use GMail and the world continues to revolve around the sun.

Move on, is the message. On his part, Mark Zukerberg defended the site’s action of keeping the content even if the guy deletes the account by drawing the email analogy. He says, “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 the friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates his/her account, the friend still has a copy of that message.”

Partiban says that keeping messages are fine but he completely disagrees when it comes to photos and blog posts. He says, “Photos and posts are not sent to friends. They are published in my account and I should have the right to delete them permanently if I want to.”

Shrav, an engineering student, issues a warning that should Facebook implement the new law, he will move away from Facebook as will thousands of others. But it doesn’t look like Facebook is in any hurry!