Skip to content

Facebook owns YOU!

If you're anything like me, and I guess 99.9% of internet users out there, you never bother checking those long and boring terms of service that you have to confirm you've 'read and understood'.

Recently, I decided not to accept Google Desktop tracking all my searches to 'give me better service', and although I have a gmail account (which I use for throwaway registrations and the like) I don't much like the idea of everything being scanned for advertising purposes. There are a number of issues, but basically it seems to revolve around Google storing loads of data for ages, and not giving you much/any control over what happens to it. Wikipedia, CNET and Google Watch comment on this.

"2.3 You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google" (Gmail Terms of Service)
does this mean minors cannot get a Gmail account?

This is a scary one:
"11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services." (Gmail Terms of Service)

I don't understand: the first line says you "retain copyright and any other rights" relating to "Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services"; then the next line says that Google has all rights until hell freezes over to "any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services". Seems somewhat contradictory to me... It also seems like anything you email also belongs to them which seems weird. I must have misunderstood something...

I also wonder what does "post" mean in this context? 'Post' as in send my email? Or 'post' as in blogs? What, if anything, will I be 'displaying' if I only use Gmail??

Let's compare: what does Yahoo! say?
"Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Service." but with exceptions
"With respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Service." ( Yahoo! Terms of Service)

This seems a lot more clear and fair: in public areas only, and as long as it's kept online. I think that they have to have this provision, otherwise you could sue them for displaying your content (pictures, text, whatever) as part of the usual service.

MySpace recently announced that 29,000 'sex-offenders' were barred, which seems like a good idea in principle, though one would think that any serious nasty paedophile out to entice children is unlikely to log on/register under his (probably) own name. Stephanie Booth gives a good analysis of the situation, so check that out if you're interested. Also, apparently MySpace donated "a database containing information about sex offenders to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children" ( One thing struck me here, although the intention is no doubt benign and non-commercial, what other uses could MySpace put to the masses of data on registered members...? Could they decide to sell the details of all boys between 16-18 who like PlayStation, for example?

Though maybe the data they provided is "non-personally-identifiable information [that] may be shared with third-parties to provide more relevant services and advertisements to members." Privacy Policy

With regards to content you post there:
6. Proprietary Rights in Content on
1. " does not claim any ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, "Content") that you post to the MySpace Services... By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content on or through the MySpace Services, you hereby grant to a limited license to use, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on and through the MySpace Services." ( Terms & Conditions)

It's good that here they actually explain why they have such terms:
"Without this license, would be unable to provide the MySpace Services. For example, without the right to modify Member Content, would not be able to digitally compress music files that Members submit..." ( Terms & Conditions)

So what about Facebook? Legal Andrew has given an analysis of their Terms of Service and he probably understands more than I do. He quotes this section:
" By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose..." (Facebook Terms of Use)

and comments:
"In plain English, this means you're giving up copyright control of your material. If you upload a photo to Facebook, they can sell copies of it without paying you a cent. If you write lengthy notes (or import your blog posts!), Facebook can turn them into a book, sell a million copies, and pay you nothing." ( Legal Andrew)

Actually, the Facebook TOS do go on to say:
"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." (Facebook Terms of Use)

so it's not in perpetuity like Google seems to be.

So, conclusions?
• There's a lot more in these 'Terms and Conditions' than you think, and
• You probably won't understand most of it anyway
• The future of social networking sites, search machines, email services, should be carefully thought about, and hopefully someone will come up with non-proprietary, non-controlling, systems that allow people to network and communicate without having to go through commercial entities bent on squeezing blood out of data. Something like a peer-to-peer network, where everyone has their own blog/homepage/profile (they would have to pay for this though...), and all communicate via communication lines, just like telephone wires or something... I mean, no telephone company is ever going to claim the rights to your conversation, or that they will monitor your conversation to harvest data for advertisers! Why do Google et al. do it? Because they can, basically.


anthroblogia on : Check your Facebook privacy settings

Show preview
Thanks to @SurindRaj I just heard about the most recent Facebook attempt to use your data to make money From what I understand, this means that they want to use your pictures (e.g. your profile picture) in conjunction with ads to - for example - say


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

RK Boo on :

Scary stuff. I hope everyone reads these terms properly before going around posting valuable details...

In response to the Facebook wagon, no one wants to be left out, it seems--everyone wants to be connected. Including you! :-P conformity. shakes head I expected better...

Btw, I finally finished writing my paper. Good enough for publication, hopefully. Email me if you wanna read it. It's short--less than 20 pages. Well, coming from me--that's pretty concise. :-P

julian on :

You dun get it do you: not social conformity, participant observation ;p

Sorry will get back to you on the paper asap, been occupied...

RK Boo on :

I know it's one day late, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! :-D

You can open your Riesling white wine, if you haven't already. ;-)

julian on :

Thanks :-) It was delightfully quaffed a while ago I'm afraid, and very nice it was too.

Adrien on :

These are standard contracts - you will notice the recurring theme. So GMAIL is not an issue, because they have the line afterwards: "This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services..."

Facebook owns you - yes - because it is "for any purpose..."

julian on :

Thanks for pointing that out, though I wonder what limits there are on 'displaying, distributing and promoting'... Can Google define that in any way they feel like??

I agree, the "for any purpose" is really casting the net wide.

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
:'( :-) :-| :-O :-( 8-) :-D :-P ;-) 
BBCode format allowed
Form options