Yet Another Reason Why I Don’t Trust Facebook

February 16, 2009

Last year I gave up on Facebook. Yes, this is despite its ubiquitous nature to where people now ask me if I’m on grandma’s favorite social network and look at me quizzically when I reply in the negative. The reaction on their faces is usually one of puzzlement, since I am supposed to be a nerd, and from the point of view of Paul Blart Mall Cop Middle America, a nerd not on Facebook has just lost 100 geek points.

But my reasons for not participating in Facebook have to do privacy, data portability, not trusting any service that has too much power, all of which actually gain me 1,000 geek points – but it would take a geek to tally up that score.

So there is a new brouhaha regarding an adjustment to Facebook’s terms of service which basically gives them ownership rights over everything a user uploads to the site, even after you quit.

The brouhaha was rising, so in a recent blog post, Mark Zuckerberg wrote his side of the story, saying they need to own the data facilitate content-sharing. Meaning, if you send an email to someone else, they receive a copy of it, and therefore you lose control. Zuckerberg says that if one were to quit Facebook and take back all your emails and photos and superwall notes, it would be rather rude to the people who would then see all your content disappear.

With this analogy, Zuckerberg turns the blame back on the user, saying we want data control both ways – we want to do whatever we want with other people’s data, but then get huffy when ours is shared willy-nilly.

But while this is an interesting issue, its contemplation is just a distraction from the real one.

Facebook is not being built as an open system. Say you send an email from one person to the other outside of Facebook – in the real world. Let’s look at the GMail TOS:

Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Gmail account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service.

Wow, they actually do not claim any ownership of your data. Imagine that. Email is a communications platform. Gmail provides a service – a means to get data from point A to B. They don’t care what the data is. If one email user has an issue with how their email is being used by some user on the other end, it’s an issue between the two users and GMail stays out of it. The email service is just the middleman.

That should be the preferred solution. But Facebook isn’t just about their service, they also care about the data. Otherwise, why do they want ownership?

Ultimately this is why I don’t like Facebook. I don’t trust their motives, and I don’t trust the system they’re building. It’s very closed; their intentions often opaque. They are basically constructing an alternative to the open Internet, except under the control of one corporation. And unlike Google, another huge company, I do not think Facebook is doing this with any noble intentions like sharing all the world’s information or trying to connect people.

Google provides access to the world’s data on any website it may reside. Facebook is trying to pull all that data into itself. Their rights-grabbing TOS which is nearly the polar opposite of Google’s just gives more fuel to my suspicions that they want to literally, own all the data, probably for some nefarious Beacon-like advertising scheme.

I don’t enjoy such paranoid thoughts, which is why I quit Facebook last year. I prefer to use Google or some other social network where this kind of contemplation doesn’t come into play. Sure, Google has a lot of power, but their friendlier TOS and their efforts towards data portability at least have me believing they still have the user’s best interests in mind.

So I’ll continue to avoid Facebook, thank you very much, just like that sure to be terrible Transformers movie. And not care how many geek points I lose on a daily basis with grandma.


  1. I always had a problems with sites like Facebook, I see and experience through my wife the social benefit of being connected, but the privacy is a big concern. But I guess you can't have both ways. The way Facebook revised their policy was kind of shady. Facebook should have been more open about it instead of trying to slip it in like the way they did. Thank god for privacy watchdogs.

  2. Garmin Man says:

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this! I had no idea their terms of service were so questionable/shady.

    I can't beleive that even AFTER you delete your facebook account, they STILL own (and I'm assuming have easy access too) anything that you have put on their site! Thank god I never did much with my facebook account.

    Seriously, why do they want to keep your info etc. so bad? Are they going to sell it to a 3rd party that is going to end up spamming the facebook users? Or do they sit there and spy on people, trying to gain particular information or insight that would benefit them?

  3. I have always enjoyed Facebook and made a lot of friends there. However, the announcement of the change in their TOS really concerned me. A lot of us complained and to Facebook's credit, they reversed this new policy and reverted back to their prior terms of service. So they won't “own” our photos, etc after we delete our account after all – I mean, how ridiculous was that? Big brother is watching us!

  4. I'm glad to hear that facebook apparently switched it's terms of service back; I couldn't beleive it when I found out that they literally wanted to OWN anything that people had uploaded to their site, including photos etc., even AFTER people had deleted their account!

    Maybe now I don't have to worry about facebook so much?

  5. Mike says:

    I wish Google would do something more proactive about this. Build up Orkut, or nuke Orkut and start with something completely new. Not an OpenSocial framework, but a completely new site that would compete directly with Facebook.

    Getting people to switch would be tough – one of the primary reasons I've seen friends switch from MySpace to Facebook is the spam. Spam just isn't present on Facebook.

    Consequently, a lot of Windows users are switching to the Mac because there isn't widespread malware – not because of all of the other good reasons to switch to a Mac. They just need a bad one to switch away.

  6. Murano Glass says:

    I wonder if this article is really true, if it is then we might say that Facebook is planning something fishy. I am a Facebook user mainly because I keep in touch with my friends and relatives, nothing more. Ow I am also into photography and I'm uploading my photos as well, I just hope they don't use it for bad purposes.

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