Life after Facebook?

For Facebook users who are concerned with protecting their privacy, the hits just keep coming. Following right on the tail of news that the social network company planned to sell users’ addresses and phone numbers,  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Facebook has created a system to sell content posted by users when they react positively to products and service.

The new system, which targets a user’s network of friends for Facebook’s financial benefit, is stirring up controversy. Users are objecting because they are not allowed to opt out of having their content sold, they have not been informed by Facebook that their information would be used in this manner,  and their images and names may be used without their knowledge.

As the creator of content, a user typically owns the copyright to whatever  he or she posts online. Facebook gets around this question of copyright through its terms of service agreement, to which all users are bound when they join the network. According to the company’s terms of service:

“[Y]ou 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.”

This contract clause grants Facebook the right to sell and re-post your content, your images and even your name without your knowledge, permission or payment.

Given the outrage generated by Facebook’s lack of regard for user privacy, what recourse do users have, other than simply deleting their Facebook accounts? Unfortunately, given the company’s terms of service, anyone who feels as though their rights have been infringed likely would have few, if any, legally enforceable claims. So taking Facebook to court probably isn’t the answer.

In the Internet era, however, we all possess the power to create our own solutions to problems in the online world. There is already is a movement afoot to migrate social media to an open source platform, devoid of commercial purpose and control. I can readily think of several well-known examples in which the people behind open source movements created what they viewed as a better alternative to technologies that they could not modify. Think of the .gif case in which developers created the royalty-free alternative .jpeg image standard. Or think of Firefox as a reaction to such proprietary browsers as Internet Explorer.

With knowledgeable, rebellious developers banding together to form their own open source social media networks, options already are out there for those who prefer not to have their online content sold, but who still want to take part in a virtual community. What remains to be seen, however, is just how many people can envision an online life after Facebook.