The People’s Facebook

Ari Melber, Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger push back against the imbalance of power that they see in the “terms of service” agreements employed by social media sites:

In return for driving the profits of social media companies, users get free software. But too often, the cost is unpredictable vulnerability: confusing, generic contracts that give companies control over your data, prose, pictures, personal information and even your freedom to simply quit a given website. This is a classic example of form contract abuse—when a single, powerful party pushes a contract onto a disparate group of other parties.

They call for a “People’s Terms of Service” developed by social media users to serve as “a common reference point and stamp of approval”:

There are two potential benefits: The result could be pressed on existing Internet companies, and also provide a model for new companies that want compete for users who demand respect for their freedom, choice and privacy. To be effective, the contract would use plain English, not legal jargon. It should be short enough so people can read it. (That’s a contrast to Facebook, which offers a contract almost as long as the US Constitution.) Beyond terminology itself, we propose five values worth considering for a model agreement: security, confidentiality, transparency, permanency and respect for intellectual property.