Darren Waters

Facebook still showing growing pains

  • Darren Waters
  • 18 Feb 09, 09:45 GMT

So Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and boss of Facebook, has had to learn the hard way that a social network is nothing like e-mail.

Mark ZuckerbergIn his original attempt to defuse a growing row over changes to its terms of service, Zuckerberg had tried to explain the decision to hold on to people's data, even if they quit the social network, by likening it to e-mail.

He said: "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 e-mail work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear."

But users clearly have different expectations about their data when it comes to e-mail.

Users have come to accept and understand that e-mail takes on a persistent state when it leaves an outbox and flies across mail servers to reach the intended recipient.

On countless occasions retrieved e-mails have helped expose fraud or duplicity. And that's because e-mail is copied and copied again as it makes its journey to the intended recipient.

On a social network, users have a different notion of ownership of information. By signing up to a walled garden like Facebook, it is only natural perhaps that people feel the data that is stored on the social network remains their property.

From comments, to videos, photos and applications - this data remains sealed inside the Facebook garden regardless of whether it is sitting on a friend's Wall, or is a photo that can only be seen by members of a specific Facebook Group.

Unlike the web in general, where the spiders of search engines never sleep and crawl our data on public sites 24/7, making it available to all, Facebook is a private members club, in which each member decides who can and who cannot see or share their information.

What's so surprising about this row is perhaps how naive Facebook would appear to have been.

After all, users have long complained about how difficult it is to actually delete their accounts on the social network.

And terms of service for sites in general have always been a contentious issue. From Twitter rows to Google Chrome complaints and global data privacy debates, web firms have been wrangling with these issues for years.

And by flip-flopping between defending the new terms of service and reverting back to the old agreement while encouraging user feedback, Facebook is clearly one of many companies that have yet to fully resolve these issues.


  • Comment number 1.

    You do mean 'defuse' and not 'diffuse', I take it?

  • Comment number 2.

    Zuckerberg has referred to 'his' product as an advertising platform first and foremost before now. Ok, maybe he was just working the room of advertising execs at the time, but it's interesting he's so happy to tell people what they want to hear in order to make a buck / continue to make bucks / not get in trouble for making bucks.

    I like the social side of it, but abhor the 'targeted marketing for my benefit and convenience' and the many spammy mods and add-ons that require all your personal info for not very much return.

    I think the kid turned to the Dark Side a loooong time ago. Given that it's not even his idea originally, I'll take what he says with a pinch of salt if it so happily justifies him continuing to buddy up to folk who just want me to buy their junk. (Nevermind the civil liberty infringement argument - would you trust the UK govt if they had a 'social networking site' to resist the temptation to slap every transaction and address down on some national criminal database?? of course not!)

  • Comment number 3.

    Why is this a story? The original T+Cs of Facebook allow them to make changes. They gave notice, people said they didn't like the changes, Facebook said ok, we'll hold off until we review them, and they let people know again.

    What exactly is the issue?

    If people don't like the T+Cs, don't use the site. Simple as that, surely?

  • Comment number 4.

    Darren, spot on and what's BBC thinking on similar issues such as when BBC employees use Twitter. Are you giving material funded by the license fee payer to Fred Wilson's venture for free?

  • Comment number 5.

    "he's so happy to tell people what they want to hear in order to make a buck / continue to make bucks / not get in trouble for making bucks." Post 2.

    But all these sites are founded to make a buck.
    Twitter, for example, was founded by Evan Williams (owns Obvious Corp, also founded Blogger [sold to Google] and Odeo). Investors include Marc Andreessen (also invested in Netscape, Digg,, sits on Facebook's board) Union Square Ventures (, Feedburner) and some other big hitters (dragons) in US tech venture capital.
    They will expect returns on their investments. Expect monetising / diversification attempts soon.

    What I found disturbing in the article Darren links to about 'Twitter rows' is the statement: "What started out as the fairly run-of-the-mill harassment of a female user . . . "
    So "run-of-the-mill harassment of a female user" is taken as being nothing to be concerned about?!!!
    Needless to say Twitter's inaction on this is very disturbing, particularly as Twitters’ likely to attract all the same trolls, stalkers, bullies, obsessives, misogynists, race haters, perverts and other detritus of humanity that's plagued discussion boards, blogs and social sites in the past.

    Darren also said: "From comments, to videos, photos and applications - this data remains sealed inside the Facebook garden regardless of whether it is sitting on a friend's Wall, or is a photo that can only be seen by members of a specific Facebook Group."

    Only partially true, Facebook mail posts etc are now showing up in Google search results. Think your FB mails are just between you and your friends, think again. Also Google someone's name + MySpace and its easy to view their MySpace profile.
    The same with Twitter; if you Google say - "twitter john cleese" you can get into Cleese's twitter stream, click on the @username of those that added Tweets and your into their profile and personal Tweet stream. Think your Tweets are 'private', think again! The stalkers can get amongst you.

  • Comment number 6.

    This whole argument is made moot by the fact that when you leave a comment on Facebook, the recipient receives an email notification of that comment, with the full text of the comment contained in the email. You have already lost ultimate control over that comment - deleting your Facebook account will not remove that notification from the recipient's email inbox.

    So you claim in the first sentence that 'a social network is nothing like e-mail' seems a little daft. It *is* like email, because email is what's being used.

    Zuckerberg's argument is common sense. Removing comments from online discussions removes context, which can lead to potentially serious misunderstandings when read post-removal. What Facebook needs to do is to follow through on their promise of clarity in the T&Cs, and say *exactly* what their policy is.

  • Comment number 7.

    @jayfurneuax Google can only crawl Facebook stuff if you let it. Otherwise it's just your name and presence on the network. Or am i wrong?

  • Comment number 8.

    Darren - post 7.
    True, but how many people HAVE given permission for more information to be made available - without knowing the implications?
    Regarding mail posts - when I've stumbled across these in Google searches I've seen the whole thread from multiple users, not just those sent by that user.
    I'm assuming that allowing access to one user also allows access to what others have posted if it shows in that one mail box. (It's unlikely that they all gave permission isn't it? - or perhaps they did!)
    Does Twitter have any similar TOS clause?

    I've just tried an experiment Goggling: MySpace and a friend's name - That got me into their profile.
    Once into their profile (the whole thing!) you can even jump from their Friends list to other profiles - personal data and all - and from there to their Friends and so on. And I'm not a MS member!
    As for deleting info from sites - how long is it kept in Google's cache? And how often are Google searches updated? - it's not an instant response time.

    My point is that much information is a lot more visible than people think, even if others stumble across it by accident.

    But if someone really, really wanted to find out about someone, and had a name/username or some other info to go on, and used a specialist people search engine like Piple. . .

    Myself, I don't think that what you post in cyberspace can ever be considered truly 'private' and post accordingly. Act as if it's a newspaper you are publishing in, not a PC screen.

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting comments! :)

    to #5: My point is there is a world of difference between a social networking site that makes deals with advertising devils in order to provide funds to do it's altruistic thing, and an advertising vehicle with social networking capabilities and bonuses. If it's nailed on for Zuckerburg which is his top priority, the evidence of it will out in the long run.

    If you believe he's a social networking-centric kinda guy, then the T+C's issue can be seen as just perhaps being a bit naive, so too with the cancelling/deactivation issue.

    If you believe he's an advertising wonga making machine first and foremost then there is potential for the T+C's things to be a little more unsavoury and worth keeping an eye on for more suspect motivations manifesting themselves in different ways - akin to the EU stating brazenly that they'll keep going back to ROI with the non-constitution until they get the 'right' answer. They'll be back.

    Facebook saying they reserve the right to change their T+C's is fine by me, but I'd be interested to know how the changes were sold and whether it was spelled out what the consequences.

    oooh lunch!

  • Comment number 10.

    it's interesting he's so happy to tell people what they want to hear in order to make a buck / continue to make bucks / not get in trouble for making bucks.


    Tht's because it's a business!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    It's really quite concerning sometimes to see how much information is out there about yourself. I've found stuff that I hadn't even remembered, or worse, that I didn't think was public. Did a background check on myself once and there was even stuff on there I had forgotten about.

    Found it at: but I can't remember what provider they were using that I actually got the check from.

  • Comment number 12.

    This is some valuable information
    thats the reason i start blogging
    a lot of this infornation could cost you
    a lot of money


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