Only lawyers and nerds get excited about debating a website's terms of service. And yet Facebook managed to turn a change in its legalese into a PR nightmare. Here's an anatomy of the debacle.
The story broke on Sunday in Consumerist (a website recently sold by Gawker Media to the publisher of Consumer Reports): Facebook had changed its terms of service to say it would retain data even after users deleted their accounts! The scandalous implication: Facebook intended to keep all of its information on us, for ever and ever and ever — every last poke and Wall post and comment and photo and video.
By that evening, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's response — that Facebook users "own and control" their information — was gaining traction. But it still didn't quiet the blogosphere storm. Late last night, Zuckerberg bowed to the bloggers and retracted Facebook's revision to its terms of service, promising a further revision.
What did the storm accomplish? Facebook's terms of service no longer claim rights to a user's data after account deletion — though Facebook in fact continues to retain that information (for example, in a copy of a Facebook message sent by the former user which remains in a current user's inbox).
All that has changed is words, not actions. But the bloggers who so strongly protested Facebook's new terms of service can't very well complain about the old ones, since they lived under those for months or years without complaint.
Amid this PR storm, no one has pointed out the real issue here, which is that the guy masterminding these legal changes is Ted Ullyot, who previously worked in the Bush Administration under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, surrounded by coworkers who unabashedly defended torture and shredded the Bill of Rights. Amazing, isn't it, that people are talking about a site's legal boilerplate, rather than the guy who Zuckerberg picked to enforce it?