Facebook’s recent revisions to its online user agreement to assert ownership of all content posted by users to the social networking site—even after it has been deleted—has prompted some discussion of whether the Web site’s policies might compromise the anonymity of donors who give to nonprofit groups through Facebook’s “Causes” pages.
“I am not a Facebook aficionado,” admitted Jack B. Siegel, a Chicago lawyer and author of the Charity Governance blog, who raised the question on a nonprofit discussion list. But, he says, “if the language is plain and says that Facebook has an ownership interest, whether they intend to enforce that or not today is irrelevant. You don’t know what will happen a year from now, or if Facebook is sold to another company.”
On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it would rescind the changes to its terms of service agreement in response to complaints and was working on an alternate version. Still, says Mr. Siegel, the controversy should serve as a reminder to charities to use caution when contracting with any third party to manage contact with donors.
“Where somebody is processing your information and has access to a donor list,” he says, “there should be protections in place to protect your donor list and the anonymity that you promised.”
The issue is particularly important for nonprofit groups, said Mr. Siegel, because so many include boilerplate privacy guarantees in their online communications. “If you put that at the end of a Web site, you have a problem later on if you promise privacy and can’t deliver on it,” he says.