Reading about changes to a site's terms of service is a lot like hearing someone say, "We have to talk." It's never a good sign.
So, despite the calm way in which Twitter's Biz Stone described the site's updated terms of service, I'm raising skeptical eyebrow. We've heard a lot today about the new terms' advertising possibilities, but I'm more alarmed by the declarations of what Twitter can do with your content.
Stone notes that "your tweets belong to you, and not to Twitter." At the same time, Twitter is allowed to "use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)."
After all that, what ownership do I have that Twitter doesn't?
Let's make an analogy. Say I write a sentence on a piece of paper. They're my words, on my paper, plain and simple. But let's say the paper company had declared that it can take those words and use them as it pleases, because they were written on the company's paper. Can I still say that I'm the owner of those words?
The justification for Twitter's reproduction rights is, simply, "that's what we do." Not good enough.
Twitter's terms look a lot like the ones that got Facebook into hot water earlier this year. They're not word-for-word the same, but you see a lot of similar language: use, copy, scan, reformat, modify, edit.
Not surprisingly, Twitter moved to pre-empt the backlash that Facebook faced by saying that "your tweets belong to you." (Facebook said it in reverse: "We are not claiming and have never claimed ownership of material that users upload.")
We're talking semantics here. The bigger problem is the blanket claims these social networking sites are making on users' content. I appreciate that Twitter's terms of service are brief and readable, but I'd rather the site spell out exactly how and where it intends to use people's tweets, so we're all on the same page.