MyFace or TheirFace?
These days it seems cliché to say that technology will turn on us. What's more, to say corporations aren't trustworthy. The chart-topping social networking site, facebook.com, has definitely put their stamp on the nouveau-adage.
This week, Facebook failed in its attempt to gain ownership to the user-created content on the site. A change in the terms of service sparked mass public outcry, and after a few days Facebook decided it wasn't worth the trouble, and revoked that portion of the new terms.
However, in this complicated case, what's to blame, the natural movement of technology or corporate greed? According to Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg, neither.
It all started with one sentence: "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." Users don't have to agree to this new term, since the original terms stated that "We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these terms at any time without further notice."
This treacherous path is surely in legal limbo, but would the clear lack of ethics also have lead to a membership drop? Founder and operator Marc Zuckerberg doesn't seem to think so, cooly assuring users that "the trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work."
But perhaps there is something more important to those at Consumer's Union (the mega-corporation that owns Facebook), a six-letter word that seems to be disappearing lately: profit.
With ad-revenue surely decreasing due to the economy and servers constantly becoming larger and more complex, it was only a matter of time until Facebook needed to blacken the books. Obviously a membership fee would drive the company into the ground, since Facebook's main appeal is the ability for anyone to create a profile.
This being said, Facebook could possibly go with another route in terms of revenue: marketing.
Marketing firms remain a profitable enterprise, even in today's market. All companies, whether big or small, want to know about their demographic and what they want to purchase. Who knows this information better then the ominous eye of Facebook?
These firms would pay Facebook an extremely substantial amount of money for the type of consumer information Facebook has on its servers. A collection of data regarding the most consuming demographic, listing hobbies, interests and activities, while having a dialogue amongst each other is any marketer's holy grail.
It seems like it would have been legal, but was it ethical? Some have suggested that if Facebook were to label users simply as numbers and disregard their names and basic private information while keeping their consumption data, that it would have been user-friendlier and not so scandalous.
Others say that it matters not how they go about it, the fact is that they tried to use information from people without getting their express consent. However would users be more accepting of these new terms if the choice was between no Facebook or a consumer-data recording Facebook?
This move could have been necessary to keep everyone's favorite website up and running in these trying times. So what's the big deal?
The big deal is that these days everyone has rights to everything, including Facebook, which has the right to protect itself. Protect itself against what? Against the cold reality that right now, they are in an easy position to be sued.
With each user "owning" their own Facebook page, but the company maintaining it, a legal slip-up is only a short step away. Let's say for example a user deleted their Facebook, but perhaps Facebooks servers were backed up, or down, and the deletion was delayed, the user could sue and claim damages.
In today's courts, who's to say if it would work? Facebook would be barraged with nuisance suits. In a legal sense, ownership is the next logical level to ensure a secure future for a company such as this.
So why all the plots? Now there's a relevant question. This situation has been carried by so much ACLU-esque momentum that it seems like everyone's too worried about the battle instead of the cause of war. The fact of the matter is that Facebook is free to its clients, regardless of the operation costs that it endures. Users pay nothing at all, and in return they get space on a server which they personally don't operate.
After all, Facebook is a business, and comparatively a pretty client-friendly one at that. It's a luxury to have a Facebook, not a right, and after all users are the ones who choose what goes on their Facebook. So users should know better than to put something compromising or personal on a server.
As long as Facebook is free, it'll maintain its membership. As long as it's on top of the Internet pyramid, it'll create controversy. But most importantly, as long as you're paying $0.00 for your Facebook, you get exactly what you pay for.