Facebook decides not to suck life out of users

If you logged into your Facebook account this morning, you know that the social net has caved into pressure from users who demanded a reversal in the new terms of use. Facebook set off a firestorm on this one. I knew this was a major issue when I had casual Facebook users ask me about it, thinking that it meant Facebook owned all of their content into eternity (it did). It reminded me of the early Chrome debacle where Google originally stated they had more rights to your data than any company really should. (Early on, the EULA said Google could re-distribute private data.) What’s interesting about this story is that Facebook and Google have reached pretty high when it comes to user privacy, not necessarily in an evil or insidious way, but in ways that help the company and not necessarily the user. Facebook needs to have their hooks in you pretty deep. In fact, the deeper a social net gets its claws in you, the longer you will stay. You upload tons of photos, post a journal for years, and connect with a vast network of associates whom you have never actually met. It’s really hard to leave. And, there’s no framework that I know of that lets you convert your data (and it is your data) to another social network. This is not true of most Webmail services. There’s no way Gmail is going to lay claim over your own messages, is there? Regardless of whether they can, at least there are services like Trueswitch that let you copy all of your messages from one Webmail service to another. I’m not sure whether the data continues to live on a server somewhere, but at least you can port it over to another site. So what can end-users do about these awkward policies? One approach is to just wait them out. Anything really dumb like the Chrome EULA will probably be short-lived. A preferred approach is to get involved. Look through the terms of use for the sites you use, and see if there is anything you disagree with. State your views and argue your case for privacy. If you don’t win the fight, then move on to the next site. I think there will be fall-out over this one, though. Those folks who e-mailed asking about the new Facebook policies still have this perception that the site is trying to hold their data in perpetuity, that Facebook has become an evil overlord. (I usually tell them they should try dealing with Facebook PR, wow -- there's a challenge.) Most will not abandon Facebook and go somewhere else -- there are so few good options. But they might use the social network less often, and think twice about uploading their entire digital life onto the site.

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