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You have no rights

A couple of days ago I received an invitation to join a new group on Facebook with the title "Constitutional Facebook". Risto Lunturi who lives in Finland, created this group after one of his friends was "erased" from Facebook. From a 100 invitations sent out on Monday, the group has now grown to over 650 members.

If you look at the terms and conditions of social network sites like MySpace and Facebook, its clear that you surrender most of your rights when you click on the "accept" button that is required to get access to the service.

Take Facebook as an example; you can find their terms of use here.

By using the service, you give Facebook carte-blanche to use your content in any way they see fit…

"By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing."

The termination clause is also very broad (my emphasis added)…

"The Company may terminate your membership, delete your profile and any content or information that you have posted on the Site or through any Platform Application and/or prohibit you from using or accessing the Service or the Site or any Platform Application (or any portion, aspect or feature of the Service or the Site or any Platform Application) for any reason, or no reason, at any time in its sole discretion, with or without notice, including f it believes that you are under 13, or under 18 and not in high school or college."

There is no appeal process for termination. The only recourse that you have under the Facebook conditions of use would be to sue for arbitration as detailed in the Arbitration clause.

Risto doesn't describe the details behind why his friend was erased from Facebook – indeed, looking at some of the generic expulsion notices that people erased from Facebook received, it's possible they don't even know themselves.

It's clear that online social networking is quickly becoming an integral part of many new services and applications. The majority of the companies providing these services and applications are for-profit – they look to generate revenue through either subscriptions or advertising. Facebook is aiming to generate revenue through highly targeting advertising – MySpace does the same through their hyper-targeting ads.

Generating revenue in exchange for providing a service is necessary for a company to survive but as social networking becomes more deeply integrated into people's lives and (eventually) business activities, it can't be a one sided relationship.

Facebook is completely within their rights to define the terms under which people use their service but their users have rights too – perhaps the sole right left to a Facebook user is to stop using Facebook after deleting their content. Even that seems to be a challenge as this article in "The Register" describes

Will the Constitutional Facebook group grow big enough to negotiate a limited Bill of Rights for Facebook users? We'll just have to see but in the long run, this isn't something Facebook can ignore.

Comments

Stu Phillips

Travel Guy - there have been a lot of post on different blogs about the issues with Facebook.

The eviction notices are generic and FB's T&C are very narrow and (predictably) slanted in their favor.

Bottom line - their sandbox, their rules. Just don't forget who owns the sandbox!

Stu

Travel Guy

It is an interesting point you make, however, I find it hard to believe someone will be removed from facebook without having at least an idea of why. I would like to know what it was he did to get the boot. When something grows as big as facebook I'd be willing to bet that in order to get kicked off FB, you'd have to do something that most FB users would want you kicked off for.

Stu Phillips

Danny,

Thanks for the comment - rights for non-tangible objects and issues are going to be a necessary step in how we integrate the online world with the real world.

It's going to be interesting to see how this evolves!

Stu

danny nerezov

Interesting points there about intellectual property and virtual chattels...let me add to this conversation by telling you about sex and murder..and how they relate to the extension of rights for facebookers.

In Qui Chengwei (a chinese case), a man playing an MMORPG had his virtual sword stolen by his friend (who then sold it on ebay for $900US). The man was upset, went to the police, who then told him that a virtual sword is not property and therefore cannot be stolen. Unable to get a remedy, the man ended up killing the thief, which spotlighted the issue of virtual property rights in Chinese jurisprudence..who have since enacted legislation to protect virtual chattels.

http://china.org.cn/english/2004/Jan/85502.htm

On another hand, in US, the sex.com case is the most comprehensive analysis on what cosntitutes virtual propery rights. In sex.com, a domain name was stolen from the registrant..who then needed to prove that a domain name is a type of property that's capable of being stolen. With these facts, the court formulated a three point test for defining virtual assets.

Overall..legally speaking..if you wanna fight facebook shutting down your account, you have to pierce the limitations of the EULA by arguing an (equitable or legal) interest in virtual property rights; using the three point test in the sex.com case

Drop me a line if you wanna chat about this stuff..

Great blog btw

-danny

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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