Who Can Write a Better Facebook TOS? I Can!

Here’s my contribution to the ongoing debate over Facebook’s overly broad terms of service and it begins with a story:

Gavin Newsom is the mayor of San Francisco. Closely associated with gay marriage rights, Newsom is revered in some circles and reviled in others. And that’s just in San Francisco. The rest of the nation, for the most part, just seems to hope SF would slide into the sea and get it over with. (SF residents consider this an expression of jealousy.)

Newsom is supposed to be interested in becoming governor of California. He has a slightly better chance of being elected someday than Larry Ellison, who also once considered a bid. But, only by a hair. That’s another way of saying, “Don’t hold your breath, Gavin.”

A friend of mine with a strong religious faith signed up to be a “fan” of Gavin Newsom on Facebook. I do not know my friend’s views on political issues, but I was still shocked to see my friend’s photograph show up my Facebook home page in an advertisement saying, in effect, “Your friend Bob is a fan of Gavin Newsom. Want to be one, too?”

I immediately shot an off email to my friend, asking when he became a Newsom supporter and telling him about the ad. “They did what?” summarizes his reply fairly nicely and he wasted no time in becoming a critic of the SF mayor.

Had he understood that becoming a fan allowed an advertiser to show his picture and put an endorsement in his mouth, he’d never have done it.

“I just wanted to get updates on what Newsom is doing,” he told me, never clarifying whether he’s a supporter or not.

My reading of Facebook’s newest terms of service make me think the company didn’t have to take the photo down from the Newsom ad or even tell my friend they intended to use his likeness in that manner.

When thinking about Facebook it is very important that you understand one thing: Facebook has no idea how to make serious money off its service, so they seem prone to trying all manner of “great ideas” to make Facebook advertising more effective so they can charge more for it.

Hijacking my friend’s photograph and turning it into an ad for someone he didn’t want to be seen with is just an example of where this sort of creativity leads.

Facebook seems to run afoul of its users on a fairly regular basis. There needs to once again be some serious push back as the company now claims a legal right (via its new TOS) to do all manner of things no customer could possibly imagine it doing. And this right to do the unimaginable goes on forever.

Facebook has shown itself to be totally untrustworthy, it’s CEO’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if we choose to believe the company’s customer pacification program, that may be only for today and doesn’t change the forever nature of the new TOS.

If Facebook is serious about doing right, it should form an outside committee of consumers to oversee its TOS and I’ll nominate myself to be a member.

Meanwhile, the federal government should take immediate action against Facebook to stop this nonsense and then begin a broader inquiry into the gathering and use of personal information by the online industry. These companies are only pretending to be our friends.

Besides writing for this blog, David Coursey is also a radio talk show host. His Wednesday guests include two members of the U.S. Congress. Guess what he’ll ask them about? Write to him at david@coursey.com. Or write on his Facebook page--if you dare.

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