Whose life is it anyway, yours or Facebook's? That's the question users are asking after critics charged that personal information is not only kept by the social networking site, but that it basically owns any information that is posted, can do whatever it wants with it and doesn't need your OK.
The brouhaha started when the popular site quietly changed its terms of service (TOS) Feb. 4.
Under the license section of the TOS, Facebook said that by agreeing to the terms, users "grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, nonexclusive, transferable, worldwide license to use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain and distribute any user content you post."
That means that your unsavory escapades—in writing or photos—potentially could be used to sell the service and, moreover, Facebook doesn't need to tell you or get your permission.
According to the license, Facebook can "use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising. Facebook will be entitled to the unrestricted use of any such submission for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or compensation to you."
Adding insult to injury, the site did not notify users of TOS changes and, in fact, said it doesn't have to.
"We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these terms at any time without further notice. Your continued use of the Facebook service after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new terms."
All of which leads to the obvious question: If users aren't alerted to TOS changes, how would they know what they're agreeing to? Check the TOS every time they use the site?
Most Facebook users only found out about the TOS revisions after a Consumers Union blog, The Consumerist, posted an outraged commentary on Sunday. The remarks were subsequently picked up by the media.
The resulting ire prompted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to go on the defensive the following day. However, while his message said we "wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want," he didn't say that the TOS would be changed.
"Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with," wrote Zuckerberg. "When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people without this license we couldn't help people share that information."
Zuckerberg also acknowledged that ownership of content on social networking sites is a very murky area and seemed to say, in essence: Don't follow us, we're lost, too.
"We're at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out," he wrote. "It's difficult terrain to navigate and we're going to make some missteps."