Facebook's New TOS to Earn an FTC Complaint

Facebook's Terms of Service (TOS) changed a couple of weeks ago, but wasn't noticed until brought to people's attention by the site Consumerist. Despite some fast tap-dancing by Facebook, the cat's out of the bag, and it's not going back in. In fact, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is preparing a formal complaint to be sent to the FTC.

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said:
"We think that Facebook should go back to its original terms of service"
Facebook made changes to their TOS which seemed to imply they owned you information in perpetuity. While denying it in a blog post and explaining it in a way that made sense:

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person's sent messages box and the other in their friend's inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.
Things haven't cooled down. Nope, there are several Facebook groups in a furor over this issue.

"People Against the new Terms of Service (TOS)"
"FACEBOOK OWNS YOU: Protest the New Changes to the TOS!"
"Those against Facebook's new TOS!"

In all honesty, it would seem users of MySpace and Facebook should be more worried about information that gets "exposed" while they are members. Anyone remember former Arlington, OR mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist who was recalled over MySpace photos (shown)?

We doubt, however, that this is going to go away without Facebook backtracking. Facebook blew it with Beacon, if you recall that prior fiasco. Beacon sent notifications to a user's Facebook friends when the user did something at another Web site (like purchasing something) while logged in at Facebook.

You can imagine the privacy concerns over that. And Facebook backed down.

They appear to be at least considering backing down again. Facebook has begun to run a poll in its users' News Feeds asking them for their opinion on the TOS change. Choices are "No," "I don't know," and "Yes." We have a feeling what will get the most votes.

As William McGeveran, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who specializes in information law and data privacy told NPR:

"He is saying, 'Just trust us.' And this is a pattern with Facebook in general. They have a pretty bad record for being transparent with their users about their intentions, given that they are a company founded on transparency and information sharing. So with Beacon, and previously with the introduction of a new feature called News Feed, Facebook made a major change, didn't lay the groundwork to reassure their users, the users revolted, and then Facebook found itself in the position of explaining afterwards and apologizing and playing catch-up. And the same thing seems to be happening here.

So it's 'user beware,' McGeveran says, "and it was true before these terms of service changed just as much as it is now. I don't think the terms of service really make a dramatic difference in how public you're being with the information you post on Facebook."
What do you readers think? Much ado about nothing? Or something serious that needs to be addressed?

Update: Facebook has backed down, reverting to their original TOS.  However, they said this was a temporary move, and that they will revist them yet again.  Fun!
Tags:  Facebook, MySpace, FTC