Your rights on Twitter and Facebook

Having looked at the evolution of identity ownership since the early days of the commercial internet in the previous entry, I now drill in on the terms offered by two of the most popular social services: Twitter and Facebook. What I found surprised me, as Twitter appears more aggressive when it comes to user rights management than Facebook is.

Twitter and your content

Twitter, one of the most popular social services today, has one of the most enlightened Terms of services: They try hard to give you as many rights as possible and to take as few things as possible for themselves… and yet, you find things like this (emphasis is mine):

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

So, if Twitter decides, in the future that all private tweets are now public, they can legally do so. Or if they want to compile a book of your tweets and sell it without giving you a dime, you’ve granted them those rights too. And then (emphasis mine again)…

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

So if you said you liked a particular product on Twitter, the company can then partner with the maker of that product to use your endorsement in their ads, once again without giving you anything for is. In fact, the matter of compensation is clearly stated in that TOS:

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

… and of course, Twitter is making sure that anything they’ve given you can be taken back:

We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services and to terminate users or reclaim usernames

… and all this from one of the friendlier services out there (for the record, I picked Twitter because it’s often been painted as a friendly service compared to Facebook.

Did Facebook become the good guy?

So this brings up to the big difference between Twitter and Facebook. Many have decried Facebook’s push to shatter privacy settings for users of the service. So let’s take a look at their TOS.

Facebook initially seems to point to a policy that seems to give you more control of your content until you re-read the statement (emphasis mine):

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

First of all, I want to say thank you to Facebook for limiting their rights to the current times and not getting rights for method of distribution that could be created in the future. However, this portion about “unless your content has been shared with others” destroys the rest of the argument: one posts content to Facebook to share it with others so what you seem to be saying here is that if it’s been on Facebook, we can use it.

The rest of the contract actually seems to offer friendlier terms than Twitter does and of course, highlights that they can turn your access to service off at any time (once again, emphasis is mine):

If you violate the letter or spirit of this Statement, or otherwise create risk or possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you

Any lawyer will tell you that possible legal exposure can be created in a lot of cases, so this seems to give an almost blank check to Facebook to turn off your access.

Compare and Contrast

What was most interesting to me, in reading the terms of both Facebook and Twitter is that it seems we, as users, are giving up more rights when we are using Twitter than when we are using Facebook. Whether this is a function of Facebook having been at the center of a few firestorms regarding user rights and therefore forced to change its terms to make them friendlier to users or some other factor regarding corporate culture is not something I can assess. All I can tell is that it seems that one gives up more by publishing content on Twitter than they do by doing so on Facebook.

Does that mean that Facebook should get a free pass? Absolutely not. The pressures consumers have exercised on the service have probably had some impact. What it does mean, however, is that Twitter may have been getting by with an easier treatment than Facebook and I suspect that, as its user-base grows and its impact increases, the service may find itself forced to revise some of the terms of its services.

I am no lawyer but I suspect there is wording that could be friendlier to users of the service and I would encourage the company to look at that wording before it becomes a firestorm.

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