Posts tagged: Internet

Feb 20 2009

Facebook Changed Their TOS. So What.

Two weeks ago, Facebook updated their terms of service. This past weekend someone wrote a blog entry pointing out the changes, and that people should maybe worry.

And people flipped the frack out….about something they didn’t understand. At all.

Sheesh. Before freaking out, let’s talk about a bit of the basic information behind this first. This issue involves user data and a site’s Terms of Service.

1) Terms of Use/Service and Privacy Policies

Every single site out there could benefit from a Terms of Service/Use & Privacy Policy, and any commercial site launching without one is asking for trouble. The documents generally cover what a user can and cannot do with the site, what the site is responsible for in the event of illegal activity or police involvement, what the site will or won’t do with a user’s information, and the typical indemnification “it’s not our fault if your computer breaks.” ToS aren’t unique to websites or tech, but sites are bringing these things to the attention of mainstream folks a bit more.

These docs are important for the legal protection of the company, but also to make as clear as possible to a user what will be done with any information they may provide. I don’t have one for this blog, because, well, I don’t much care, this isn’t a business, it’s my blabbering and your comments here are your own. But folks who take their blogs a bit more seriously will include something.

The moment you hit a website you’ve agreed to their Terms of Service, whether there’s a registration process or not (“your use of this site is governed by this agreement between you and whatevercompany, inc”). Ignoring a site’s terms is the same as signing up for a credit card without reading the fine print.  One month later, you get your bill:

“I didn’t see anything about 35% interest!?”
“Sure you did, you signed on the bottom of the form that you agreed to the fee.”
“I didn’t notice, so take the money back.”
*hysterical laughter* “Is this a crank call?”

Yeah, that doesn’t go over so well. There isn’t much difference between that and a site’s TOS. You agreed to it, you’re stuck with it.  And just like credit card agreements, it can be changed at anytime, with all changes taking place retroactively.

Personally? I read ‘em all, have found some fun doozies buried in various agreements, and have refused to sign up for sites or services because of them. Most recently, a line in a beta user agreement required that I “never say anything negative about the site or service.” Add to that the “this agreement exists in perpetuity,” and suddenly I’ve agreed to a gag order. I don’t think so! I was truly amazed people did sign up, but then again, I’m sure they didn’t read that.

2) User Data = You Online. Forever.

I talked about this a lot in one of my entries from she’s geeky, since it’s a big issue I don’t think people understand (and this Facebook mess just proves that).

ONCE YOU PUT SOMETHING ONLINE IT NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER GOES AWAY.

Ok? One more time.

ONCE YOU PUT SOMETHING ONLINE IT NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER GOES AWAY.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve locked your Facebook, if you’ve deleted it, whatever. It’s there. If not somewhere you can find it, then it’s in Google cache, or on the wayback machine, in your friend’s inbox, on flickr, somewhere. Don’t think that if you can’t find it it’s not online – the Wayback Machine, for example, only keeps a small fraction of their archive available online.

Now – this latest Facebook blowup.

The freak out was over the fact that Facebook added some language to their Terms saying they would keep a user’s content and licenses even after the person deleted the profile, and removed some other language about users being able to remove content to invalidate the license.

Hey, guess what people? This is nothing new – Facebook just put it in clear text. With the massively complicated architecture of today’s websites, there are caches and archives all over the place of things you’ve put online. If you delete something, it may no longer be delinked, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s gone. It’s probably not.

Should facebook have updated it’s TOS like that? Eh. They should have probably been a bit more subtle in their language, but the fact is, had a blog not pointed out what the changes meant, nobody would have noticed.

Want to read some spooky legalese? Check out Google’s Privacy Policy:

When you access Google services, our servers automatically record information that your browser sends whenever you visit a website. These server logs may include information such as your web request, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser. Also, in order to protect you from fraud, phishing, and other misconduct, we may collect information about your interaction with our services. Any such information we collect will only be used to detect and prevent fraud or other misconduct.

Know what that means? They track you online, and save that data. The wording is nice and light, but that’s what it means.  That’s scarier to me than thinking that Facebook may keep a record of “25 things about me..” even after I delete my account.

The lesson here is twofold. Just as in real life, don’t sign anything you haven’t read. If you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t use the service. And don’t think your information can ever be taken offline once you’ve put it there. It’s there forever, and even if one website says they’ll protect your information, they can always change their terms of service to say otherwise.

Be smart, be careful, and stuff like this really won’t matter.

Update: Just wanted to add a link to this article, “What Facebook’s Stumble Can Teach Your Company.” I think the opinion expressed in the article is highly idealistic and probably extremely unrealistic, but it’s still a good read.

Feb 06 2009

25 Things to Complain About On Facebook

Yesterday both the New York Times and Time Magazine published articles about the new trend on Facebook of answering silly little quizzes like “25 things you didn’t know about me.”These quizzes have been known for years as “memes.” I’ve done two of the meme’s in here, and if you really want more to do, there has been a website called the Daily Meme for a while now. The New York Times article was a ‘real’ newspaper article, researched, with real information. The Time Magazine article was a whiny diatribe about how “stupid” these things are and how dare they show up on this reporter’s Facebook.

Oh please, grow up.

According to Wikipedia, meme’s in internet culture refer to humor spreading quickly over the internet. For example, the “tell me 25 things about you…” survey that’s been flying around facebook.

These things have been around forever. They were mainly spread by email, but you’d also see them on people’s blogs (LiveJournal, or Xanga, mainly), or .plan files. Sometimes they were fun, sometimes they were dumb, but they always had a serious distribution problem that resulted in most people despising them. They would very easily turn into spam. One person would fill out the quiz, send it to 20 friends. Then that person would reply to all, add another 20 people, and…you get the picture. Those were truly the days of “25 things I didn’t want to know about you.” I didn’t even know you!

If these things are really coming back again (and it certainly seems like they are), Facebook is the perfect space for them, since they are so easy to ignore. Facebook is not like LiveJournal where a long quiz is making your Friends page huge, or like email where one quiz turns into 40 responses from people you don’t even know.  On facebook, by default, you will only see the subject line and one or two questions…if that. You’ll also only see those from your friends. There isn’t a gun being held to your head forcing you to read someone’s silly note.

Nobody has to be on Facebook. It’s a choice. If you are there, you have tools to control who and what you see. But at its core, Facebook is about sharing information among friends. Don’t want to share or see information? Don’t be there. And I’m talking to you, Time Magazine reporter. I don’t go to espn.com or foxsports.com and mock what they’re doing. You don’t have to go to facebook.com and spoil our fun.

(On a side note, someone’s gotta get this guy on MyYearbook. I think his head would explode.)

Personally, I am thrilled to see these things flying around Facebook. It means things be a changin, although I couldn’t tell you if it’s for the better or worse. Meme’s never really took over MySpace even though people do them all the time in bulletins. But, meme’s completely changed the culture of LiveJournal and Xanga. Many, many people wrote blogs that were full of nothing but meme’s. Not something I ever wanted to read, sure, but these were people who wouldn’t have been blogging without the memes. These dumb quizzes and surveys increased usage of all of these sites, and that’s ultimately a good thing.

Will Facebook users revolt, or will memes result in people spending even more time on Facebook, viewing even more pages? It’ll be interesting to see what happens from here.

Jan 15 2009

Facebook Pulls a Whopper

A few days ago Burger King posted an application on facebook allowing someone to win a coupon for a free whopper if they removed 10 friends from their profile. The app would then notify the 10 friends that they had been removed, and give them a chance to install the app (and re-add the friends if they wanted) for their own free whopper. The app was subsequently pulled from Facebook for violating policy.

I obviously have a very skewed perspective on this, having worked heavily in policy enforcement just about everywhere I’ve ever worked, and specifically in application policy at MySpace, but I also think I have a very educated opinion as a result.

The app was a very cute, original idea, and I am one of many who installed it and removed friends for my free coupon (I’m curious to see if I actually get one). At the time, I was slightly uncomfortable with notifying people that I’d removed them from my friends list, but hey – I’ll take a free whopper.

Days later, Facebook pulled the application down for violating their policies. Of course it’s not ok to tell one user another removed them as a friend, that’s just asking for an argument to start “why’d you remove me, don’t you like me anymore?” It’s why people add friends on twitter, then mute them, they don’t want to offend anyone.  Violate policies, get your application yanked. Period. But…

Why was an application that violated policy live in the first place? There’s a pretty simple answer to that, and while I can’t claim I know it’s right, I’d bet that sales was heavily involved in this. The violation in this case was so egregious there’s no way people didn’t know it was violating policy (certainly, at some point, everyone everywhere has approved something to go live where they honestly missed a policy violation). But in this case someone specifically had to have said, “I know this is breaking the rules, but we should put it live anyway,” both on Burger King and Facebook’s side of things. People have let Burger King off the hook for this, but come on, they’re not stupid. I fully believe they were well aware they were breaking policy. It’s not a policy unique to facebook, after all, “don’t tell one user when another deletes them as a friend” is policy on pretty much every service on the internets.

The question for me, anyway, is why did Facebook take it down after allowing it to go in the first place. I personally didn’t hear any kind of outrage over the app breaking policy, most of what I read about the app was exceptionally positive. I really was waiting for some story somewhere to point out the very obvious violation in the application, but most people aren’t quite as much of a policy nut as I am. The media blowup didn’t happen until after Facebook pulled the Burger King app.

So…why risk the PR mess and yank the app? There’s something to this story that we don’t know, and I don’t know if we ever will. But I can’t imagine Facebook deciding to take the app down after it had received so much pickup unless something happened, somewhere. Someone realized it was violating policy, someone threatened them over the privacy issues, Burger King beat Facebook at foosball….something. Enough people had the app installed, and it had gotten so much press attention that there was no way it could be pulled without tons of people noticing.

Ultimately, I’m glad it was yanked, and don’t believe it should have been approved at all. Companies need very clear, very specific policies about this sort of thing, and they need to enforce them. I kind of equate “waiving privacy policy for dollars” to “bribing a cop to get out of a speeding ticket.” Wouldn’t you question why a cop let a guy go who was driving 90 mph, and ticketed you for driving 45 in a 40? There isn’t all that much difference in my mind.

Just play nice with each other. Sites need to make the rules clear, and developers need to follow them. I’ve had people say to me more than once “but the rules don’t apply to me, right?” Rules are rules, no matter who you are or how large your pocketbook is. Until everyone gets to that point (and facebook’s hardly alone at this), this is going to keep happening.

Nov 01 2008

Blogging’s not what it used to be

I feel like I should say something profound, it being November 1st and the beginning of this whole “blogging for 30 days” month. I’m not good at profound, though. So some ramblings on blogging.

I’ve been blogging for a long time. My LiveJournal creation date is in early 2002, but I’d kind of started a bit before that in a different form. Like many people, whatever personal webpage I was working on at the time had an “about me” section. The “about me” would turn into a personal blog, entries in reverse order and all, and was updated almost as regularly as the rest of the site.

Before that, I had a .plan file on my VAX account. The updates there were closer to status updates on Facebook/MySpace, or Twitter blabberings, but even there, I would put basic info like “in class.” I didn’t keep the old entries, though (which is technically required to hit the definition of a “blog”).

Over the years my blogging has become much less personal, I’m sure in large part due to the fact that just about everyone’s online these days. I mean…my mom reads my Twitter. Weird, right? Not bad, just strange. The Internet was my world.

The majority of the entries in my former blog would be locked to friends-only, and would be extremely personal at times. I was a master of friend lists, and would post to different people depending on the topic. I trusted that privacy. I don’t anymore.

I very rarely see people blogging like we used to. It’s a necessary thing, of course, we were regularly talking about things we didn’t want the world to know. Not a good idea to put private information online these days.

I do miss it, though. I was friends with every single person who read my blog, and truly valued their comments and feedback. These days, I have nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter, and damn if I know half of them.

Our tiny Internet community exploded. It’s different, sure, but I’m very happy to welcome everyone on board. This is just the start – the next five years online are going to be amazing. And I for one can’t wait to see what happens.

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