Wednesday, July 29, 2009


About six months ago there was this big kerfuffle on Facebook; somebody looked at the new terms of service and OMG!!! OMG!!! Facebook was trying to steal everybody’s stuff! There was an instant Facebook revolution, with people forming massive Facebook groups dedicated to hating the evilness that was Facebook.

Except there was no real problem. There was some boneheaded new language in the terms of service that if read very, very broadly might have inferred some malevolent intent, but that language got nuked but fast when the uproar hit. And hopefully a lawyer got spanked. So the whole episode was a little silly.

Well, it just happened again. Late last week people started posting dire FB messages that Facebook was allowing third parties to grab users' pictures for advertisements, and a detailed set of instructions for changing some setting in your Facebook account to stop Facebook from doing this awful thing. I’d gotten about 30 of these messages in two days last week (and I’m still getting them today), and it didn’t make any sense, so I checked it out.

Once again, this just wasn’t happening. Facebook wasn’t taking your stuff. A quick look at the urban-legend site lead me to an official Facebook blog that explained what was really going on. Apparently there’d been some bad behavior by a few third party apps that were grabbing people’s images, but Facebook is pretty diligent in chasing those creeps down and kicking them off the island. In fact, the latest miscreants were long gone before the rumor mill cranked up last week.

As explained in the blog (and as borne out if you really look at the settings options you just hysterically changed) Facebook sells advertisements (remember, somebody has to pay for the damn thing you spend all day fooling around on) and it allows users to say they’re “fans” of the companies posting the ads, just like you can be a “fan” of movies, musicians, historical societies, and all sorts of insanely stupid stuff. And when you look at the ad on Facebook, you can see which of your FB friends are fans of the company posting the ad. And if you indicate you’re a “fan” of an ad, your FB friends will know about that.

So you get to see people you “know” (at least hypothetically) endorsing a product, and that could be pretty useful information. But the utility of this has now been compromised by another stunning example of stampeding paranoid group-think. The settings “fix” flying around FB removes your endorsement.

On the balance, though, I think this is a good thing. Social networking systems, search engines, cloud computing, just logging on to the internet exposes every one of us to all kinds of breaches of personal privacy. There’s really no such thing as being too paranoid about that, and it’s good to see that folks are being vigilant about it. Albeit sometimes a little misdirected.

Moving on, a couple of recent studies are claiming that kids aren’t illegally downloading nearly as much music as they were just a year ago. But they aren’t legally downloading, either. And they certainly aren’t listening to less music. According to the studies, they’re listening to on-line streams.

The teenage kids I know haven’t bought a CD in years, and most wouldn’t bother buying downloads for 99 cents. Why should they? They can listen online for free, or like-free. The only reason they need MP3’s at all is to stock their iPods, and that’s a big annoyance. Once a mobile wireless listening alternative comes along that makes sense to them, and you can be sure it’ll come in through their cell phones, they’re gonna grab it.

These kids expect, and are demanding, the ability to push a button and have their favorite music come out of a little thing they can put in their pocket. “Ownership” of music is irrelevant, convenience is the thing. Whether it’s free, like ad-supported sites MySpace or Pandora or the coming soon (and by all reports, fabulous) Spotify, or low-cost subscription sites like Rhapsody or the coming soon (and watch out for this one) Choruss, “music in the air” is moving fast, especially among teenagers. Pretty soon, the 60 GBs of music I store on my hard drive is gonna look as antiquated as the box of vinyl tucked away in my basement.

And as the New York Times’ Brad Stone pointed out last week (and as theorists like Choruss’s Jim Griffin have been saying for years), this could work out great for everybody. Why? Because these online streaming sites pay the royalties to record companies and songwriters that free downloaders don’t.

So the kids get what they want and the industry gets what it wants. Not to get too warm and fuzzy here, but sheesh!

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property attorney, musician and writer based in Housatonic MA. You can visit him a


At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article, as always. the album cover caught my eye, as I spent most of 7th grade playing it....judy


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