Is FB F'd Up?

VecoSys has the following piece: (but the Digg Army killed the site).


I've been waiting for the Googleplex to move its lever from Good to Evil. Meanwhile, Facebook has picked up the pace. This is the dark side of API development. Use their data for free. Use their data in a smart way and they'll steal your idea (or would that be 'use your code for $0'?).

Facebook launched their Developer API last week to a lot of acclaim. Several commentators jumped in with the hyperbole, claiming that this platform, with its 20 million, and growing, users, would be a fine space in which to build a business. Much was made of comments at the launch that this was a free and open API - there would be no restrictions on what use developers could make of this service. Techcrunch says MySpace v. Facebook: “It’s Not A Decision. It’s an IQ Test”

Facebook is viewing things from exactly the opposite position: they are giving startups access to Facebook’s core feature set, and allowing them to show advertising and conduct transactions with users without even asking for a cut.

and Josh Kopelman at Redeye VC asks Myspace - the next Prodigy?

Myspace also has a policy against commercial activity in widgets, including placing advertising in a widget – leading some to wonder whether Myspace would ultimately erect a “tollbooth” for the widget providers.

I wasn’t at the launch, so I don’t know whether this was actually said, cleverly implied (spun) or whether it was a product of the fevered imaginations of those who want this to succeed (is Facebook the Apple of the Social Networking space against the Microsoft of MySpace?). However, prompted by Marc Canter, I decided to track down the Terms and Conditions of the Facebook Developers Platform and take a look at what was in there.
Be aware, I am in no way a lawyer, and generally I don’t have that much interest in the ins and outs of terms and conditions. Everything that follows is my own view from a fairly quick reading. I’d also state that I don’t think there is anything in here that is particularly onerous or strange. But, even a quick reading gives the lie to the idea that developers have free access to this platform and that the situation is so much better than in MySpace. While this platform at least codifies access for developers, the basis on which successful applications will be allowed to continue access is totally unclear. Be warned, but not too afraid.

Be aware of this:
1. Facebook can limit you or terminate you at any time at their sole discretion (Section A.3)
2. Facebook reserve the right to impose fees at time and in any manner (Section 3)
3. Facebook can copy and distribute your Application, and analyse the content in order to target advertising (Section 4)
4. Facebook may create similar applications to yours, with no obligation to you (Sectition 4)
5. You can’t use any name or domain name address containing ‘facebook’, even at the third level, eg.g “facebook.xxx.com” (Section 6. C)
6. Be careful what ID you use for your developer account - IDs can’t be transferred or sold on, but nor do there seem to be corporate IDs. (Section 7)
7. Facebook can change the Terms and Conditions at any time, your only recourse if you don’t like this is to STOP USING THE SERVICE
(all sections below)

Now, some of this is trivial and some off it is not - but there is no solid ground here. Will Facebook impose a ‘tollbooth’ or tax on successful widgets? Sure looks like they want to. Will they be building their own competitive versions? Sure looks like they want to. Can they cut you off from the platform at any time? Sure looks like they can. Can they change the ground on which you operate? Sure looks like they can. Do you have a hard and fast relationship with this platform, making it safe to build a 20 million user widget based company on? I don’t think so.
I would say that Facebook have looked at MySpace and learned a lesson : there are a lot of developers at the gates. They have built a platform that seems to bopen up their aworld in an exciting way. But they retain their fingers on the levers of power and they willl exercise those levers as mercilessly as My Space when the time comes. That is their right, and the correct course of action. I just don’t think we should believe the free access hype at this point.

Developer Terms of Service

A.3) As provided in the Facebook Platform Documentation, your Facebook Platform Applications may make Calls at any time that the Facebook Platform is available. We may at any time, and over any given period of time, limit the number of Calls any Facebook Platform Application may send to the Facebook Platform, or prohibit any Facebook Platform Application from sending Calls to the Facebook Platform, as we deem appropriate in our sole discretion;

Section 3. Fees We reserve the right to charge a fee for using the Facebook Platform and/or any individual features thereof at any time in our sole discretion. If we do charge a fee for using the Facebook Platform or any feature thereof you do not have any obligation to continue to use the Facebook Platform or the applicable feature. However, if you do: (i) we reserve the right to specify the manner in which the fee will be calculated, the terms on which you will be invoiced and charged and the terms of payment; and (ii) any and all fees payable by you pursuant to this Agreement are expressed exclusive of all taxes and duties, including Value Added Tax (”VAT”) or any similar applicable sales tax. In addition to such fees payable, you will pay any sales, use, value-added or import taxes, customs duties or similar taxes that may be assessed by any state and/or jurisdiction (collectively, “Taxes”) that Facebook is legally required to charge on the applicable fees under this Agreement. If requested to do so by Facebook, or as otherwise required by applicable law, you will supply your VAT identification number to Facebook. We may also change the fees or fee structure for the Facebook Platform or any feature thereof at any time in our sole discretion, and in such event your continued use of the Facebook Platform or such feature constitutes your agreement to such change (provided, that you will not have any obligation to continue to use the Facebook Platform or such feature).

Section 4. By accessing the Facebook Platform, or submitting any Facebook Platform Application to us to be hosted by us, you are directing us to store copies of that Facebook Platform Application (if applicable) and any and all Developer Provided Content provided through any Facebook Platform Application on our servers. You hereby grant us a worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license, with the right to sublicense, to: (a) access, reproduce, display, distribute, perform, and store on our servers your Facebook Platform Application and any Developer Provided Content, and to create derivative works of Developer Provided Content, as may be necessary or desirable to make such Facebook Platform Application and Developer Provided Content available to Facebook Users in accordance with the terms of this Agreement and the Facebook Platform Documentation and the Facebook Platform Application Guidelines; and (b) otherwise access, use and analyze any Developer Provided Content for our internal business purposes (e.g., for the purposes of targeting delivery of advertisements or other content to persons who have viewed particular types of Developer Provided Content). You understand and agree that Developer Provided Content that is displayed on the Facebook Site may continue to appear on the Facebook Site, even after you have terminated access to your Facebook Platform Application or terminated this Agreement, as such Developer Provided Content may have been incorporated into user profiles, news feeds or other features, and that such usage may continue indefinitely.


Section 4.
You understand and acknowledge that Facebook may be independently creating Applications, content and other products or services that may be similar to your Facebook Platform Applications and Developer Provided Content, and nothing in this Agreement will be construed as restricting or preventing Facebook from creating and fully exploiting such Applications, content and other items, without any obligation to you.

Section 6.C. The foregoing prohibition includes, without limitation, using any registered or unregistered trademark, service mark, trade name, logo, trade dress or other business identifier of Facebook (e.g. FACEBOOK or FBOOK) or any third parties that advertise on the Facebook Site, or variations or misspellings of any of them, in the name of an Application or in a URL to the left of the top-level domain name (e.g., “.com”, “.net”, “.uk”, etc.) — for example, URLs such as “facebook.xxx.com”, “faacebook.com “, “facexxx.com” or “facebookprofiles.net” are expressly prohibited.


Section 7. If you are an individual acting as a representative of a corporation or other legal entity that wishes to use the Facebook Platform, then your individual Facebook Site account, or that of another employee of such entity will be deemed to satisfy this requirement. Facebook Platform accounts are associated with one or more public key/private key pairs, which you must use to access the Facebook Platform. Examples include a Facebook-issued Access Key ID string (as a public key) and a Facebook-issued Secret Access Key string (as a private key). When you complete the account creation process, you will be issued unique account identifiers, and may add a public key to your account. Account identifiers (i) identify your account and (ii) allow your Facebook Platform Applications to make Calls to the Facebook Platform. Account identifiers are immutable and will always uniquely identify your Facebook Platform account. Public key/private key pairs are unique to your account and are subject to change. Private keys are for your personal use only and you may not sell, transfer, lease, distribute, sublicense or otherwise disclose your private key to any other party.

Section 14. We may modify any of the terms and conditions contained in this Agreement, at any time and in our sole discretion, by posting a change notice or a new agreement on the Facebook Site. IF ANY MODIFICATION IS UNACCEPTABLE TO YOU, YOUR ONLY RECOURSE IS TO STOP USING THE FACEBOOK PLATFORM. YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE FACEBOOK PLATFORM FOLLOWING OUR POSTING OF A CHANGE NOTICE OR NEW AGREEMENT ON OUR SITE WILL CONSTITUTE YOUR BINDING ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHANGE.


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