More changes to Facebook’s ToS

Proposed changes “clarify” ad policy

Genealogists — like millions and millions of other people — love and use Facebook.

FB.tosAnd — like millions and millions of other people — we’re not always very careful about how we use Facebook, or how we allow Facebook to use us, and the information we share there.

And — like millions and millions of other people — we could get blindsided by proposed changes in the Facebook terms of use if we’re not aware of them.

Now terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”1 In this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the Facebook service and, if we do, what rights we’re giving Facebook.

One key change that may be coming our way is a change in the language about how Facebook uses our information for commercial purposes. A statement by the Facebook Chief Privacy Officer posted yesterday states:

As part of this proposed update, we revised our explanation of how things like your name, profile picture and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content to make it clear that you are granting Facebook permission for this use when you use our services. We are proposing this update as part of a settlement in a court case relating to advertising and we hope this clarification helps you understand how we use your information in this way, so we included an example of how these ads work.2

The language that exists right now is this:

You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.3

The language Facebook is proposing is this:

You give us permission to use your name, and profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you. If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.4

Facebook isn’t hiding these changes at all — they’re more transparent than you’ll find with nearly any other website: not only did Facebook send out an email to all its users, it even provided redlined versions of the documents it wants to change so it’s easy to see what the changes are.

The redlined documents — which highlight the proposed changes in red so they stand out — can be found in the links within the Chief Privacy Officer’s post and every user ought to download them and read them. There are four links there — two for the documents without the redlining and two with:

Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities Redline
Proposed Data Use Policy
Proposed Data Use Policy Redline

The Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is the basic overall document outlining Facebook’s terms of service — the contract that controls what users can and can’t do and what Facebook will and won’t do. Its Data Use Policy is where it tells you what happens — or can happen — with the information you put on Facebook. Both of these are things we all should review to understand just what it is we’ve gotten ourselves into in this social media world.

If you don’t like the proposed changes, you can “provide feedback within the next seven days, by leaving comments” to the the Chief Privacy Officer’s post and Facebook promises that “we will carefully consider your feedback before adopting any changes and we will post updates on the Site Governance page throughout the process.”

Considering that this is being done as part of a lawsuit settlement, I suspect the chances of meaningful changes in this particular language are somewhere between zip and zero.

Which means that our only choice, if we don’t like it, is to leave Facebook.

Which, I suspect, few if any of us will do.

Which is exactly what Facebook expects.

As I’ve said before,5 welcome to the Brave New World.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 30 Aug 2013).
  2. Erin Egan, “Proposed Updates to our Governing Documents,” Facebook Site Governance ( : accessed 29 Aug 2013).
  3. Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” 11 December 2012, Facebook ( : accessed 29 Aug 2013).
  4. Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook ( : accessed 29 Aug 2013).
  5. Judy G. Russell, “Facebook’s changing ToS,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Nov 2012 ( : accessed 30 Aug 2013).
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14 Responses to More changes to Facebook’s ToS

  1. Scot Celley says:

    What about Google+? Do they claim to own and sell your name and images as well?
    I run my church’s website,, and I am concerned that pictures of children I’ve posted on our church Facebook page will now become the property of some stock images company. And that is not why I posted those pictures. And I can’t see how I can allow my teenaged daughter to remain on FB except for information.

  2. John Wylie says:

    I’m more concerned about what Facebook in the future might do to PREVENT me from using material I’ve created, or others have created in response to mine, on Facebook. I’ve read twice and still not sure that this is even addressed.

  3. Kat says:

    Not a fan of Facebook. How can I get off it?

  4. Linda Austin says:

    What remains a “catch” is that even though my privacy settings are high (friends only, tag permissions needed), if any of my friends shares a photo of mine and THEIR privacy settings are NOT high, that photo can be used by Facebook. Yes? And of course anything you post in public groups, and I guess pages, too.

  5. Shelley says:

    I just take the position no matter what – anything I put out on Facebook or tweet is on the front news of the newspaper and I am giving it away. It is tough to keep up with all of the changes. There is always someone in the back thinking of ways to “snatch” and make a profit. Instead of LIKE maybe a membership sign in, etc, would help for our Friends & Family. That way, you know exactly who has accessed your info & photos and a trail might be created. I know I am dreaming a bit..Judy thanks for bringing this to our attention. It just makes me a bit more cautious on how I use FB.

  6. Martha Hennagin Cieglo says:

    Thank you for posting this and giving us a summary. I had read some of the updates but it was all greek to me. I too always considered anything I posted to be ‘on the front page of the newspaper’. I would like to leave FB except so many of the genealogical groups I admire and follow are on here and have abandoned their web sites. I do a great deal of original research and have shared it on these genealogical FB pages but would much prefer these groups had their own web sites where I could donate my work. If H&H and had an active web site I would subscribe to it.

  7. Richard Folkerth says:

    I was a Facebook user several years ago, but finally realized I did not like their terms of use and quit using the site. I tried to TERMINATE or CANCEL my account but the FB software would not let me do this. Instead, the best I could do was to SUSPEND my Facebook account.

    I remain active in genealogy, both with in-person visits to courthouses, libraries, etc, and with email contacts all across the country.

    It IS possible to do genealogy … remain in contact with friends and relatives … and keep up with the news … all without using Facebook. This has additional advantages because I am not continually bombarded with explanations of what my wife’s cousin had for breakfast. (That alone may be sufficient reason for not using FB … never mind the terms of use.)


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s definitely a matter of personal choice, Dick, and my own is simply to do online only what I wouldn’t mind seeing on page 1 of the newspaper. That way the terms of use don’t matter so much.

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