Last week, much was made of the changes to Facebook’s Terms of Service. It was sparked by a story on The Consumerist’s website, which led to a flurry of activity in all corners of the online world.
It even prompted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to post a statement on Facebook’s blog clarifying their stance.
The end result? Facebook has reversed their decision, and reverted to their old Terms of Service.
So, now that the frenzy has died down a little, let’s take a look at what this change was really about.
In a word: Money.
In practical terms — Facebook needs to be able to demonstrate its platform (yes platform – its so much more than just a website) to potential advertisers, partners, investors, and other interested parties. The best way to demonstrate that platform is to see it in action. And the real power of the platform is the interaction that takes place amongst all of the registered users – 175 Million and counting around the world.
Let’s say the folks at Facebook wanted to partner with another cable broadcaster, as they did during the Presidential Inauguration with CNN. Under their old TOS, if someone who had participated in the live online event, but canceled their account prior to a demonstration by Facebook, the company could not, by their own terms, use that former user’s content in their demonstration. Their presentation isn’t as effective, and they find themselves working much harder to make the sale, the partnership, or the agreement.
Another angle — if Facebook did end up using that former Facebook user’s content anyways, they could, in theory, be at risk for a lawsuit for violating their own Terms of Service. Facebook could make an attractive target for a lawsuit, as companies with deep pockets often do.
While much of the hoopla over the past week centered around privacy, in all reality it seems to be all about money. The fact of the matter is that privacy in the online world is largely a myth. A little common sense goes a long way. Everything gets archived in some form or another — if you don’t want it to come back and bite you in the future, if you second guess whether to post it or not, you’re probably better off trusting your instincts.