Newsflash: Facebook Owns You

Via Ari Melber in The Nation:

There is one thing missing in most of the hype over Facebook’s massive IPO. Everyone knows the company is popular, with 845 million users, and successful, with a potential valuation of $100 billion dollars. (That’s five times the size of Google’s 2004 debut.) But what exactly makes Facebook so valuable?

You. Its users. Or more specifically, its users’ stuff.

In fact, in the modern era, Facebook’s IPO will constitute one of the largest voluntary transfers of property from a large group of people to a corporation.

And “voluntary” is a pretty charitable gloss. Studies show many Facebook users have no idea that they clicked away their rights to photos and information by acquiescing to the company’s “terms of use” policy. After all, who has time to read 3,960 words?

If you read them, though, you learn that all content which users previously owned as intellectual property, like photos and videos, is granted to Facebook under a “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license.” That means Facebook can do whatever it wants with the material.

This is a truly galling power for a service provider—like an e-mail company asserting copyright over every piece of writing sent through the system.

There is no way to take your intellectual property back from Facebook, either. If users cancel their accounts, Facebook retains the same license for all content that “has been shared with others.” Since everything posted is shared, the company essentially retains everything ever posted on the site.