Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Facebook Needs Some Good PR Folks

Posted by Katie Noonan

It was the Consumerist Blog who first publicized Facebook’s latest PR gaffe on Sunday of this week; a story which has since caused a lot of trouble for Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team. In a sneaky and a little greedy move, the company changed their Terms of Service so that they would have claim over users’ content even after users terminated their account.

According to the new (since revised) TOS, Facebook had rights over:

“User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

The issue that I and many others in the blogosphere had with this was twofold:

1) I use Facebook to socialize with friends and share information with colleagues. I’m not so sure I want Facebook owning my page content, being able to share it with third parties, or using my likeness in promotional material.

2) It was a shady move. Plain and simple. Obviously you agree to give up a certain degree of privacy when you share information on your Facebook page, but that Facebook itself should have claim over that content even after I terminate my account or be able to “sublicense it to a third party” makes me a little uncomfortable. Call me paranoid.

The legal issues that arise are aplenty, but what’s even more amazing to me is the way Facebook handled it from a public relations perspective.

According to PR Junkie, when Facebook originally changed their Terms of Service claiming all but users’ first born children, it was done through a blog post on their site from their corporate counsel. … Personally, I’m not racing to my computer each morning to read Facebook’s blog. Maybe it’s just me, but CNN and the WSJ rank slightly higher on my list of daily “must-reads.” Yet when they came under fire for the change in TOS and were finally forced to revise them, they issued that news on every users’ individual page. So that was worthy of our attention but not the initial change?

I’m no Nancy Drew, but it seems like they were trying to pull a fast one on their 150 million active users…of which I’m willing to bet a fair share are attorneys, members of the media, bloggers, and PR practitioners. Of course you were going to get caught!

In any event, the original TOS have been restored, but it is at the very least a cautionary tale to users to beware of what you post on Facebook. More importantly it is a PR lesson to Facebook. Transparency and candor will get you far with the public. Being sneaky and using legalese to mask your agenda, not so much.

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