It's Free - Does That Mean You Can't Complain?

by Nick Monday, January 31, 2011 5:53 PM

I found this story about a man suing Facebook to be rather interesting:

In seeking $500,000, Fteja is suing Facebook for disabling his account, in which he had about 340 friends and family and had spent "timeless hours creating content and relationships [Facebook] benefitted from," the suit contends. He wants it back on, and he wants the company to pay for the damage of alienating him from his family and friends (about $1500 per friend/family).
...
There are a lot of mines to step on that could result in Facebook shutting down someone's account, according to its terms of service, and Fteja can't figure out what he did wrong.

"I know one thing - I didn't do anything," he told The New York Post (which lists him as 39 and a native of Montenegro. Gotta love those New York dailies.). "I didn't violate anything."

He aired his speculations to the tabloid. "Did someobody hack my account? I don't know. If it's that someobody hacked my account, Facebook should help me. If you have a problem with your AOL login, AOL helps you. Not Facebook," he said.

Now then, I don't know if this is worth half a million dollars, but it still poses an interesting question. I think he's right, that even though the service if "free", Facebook does get payment from all of us in that it uses our time and our information in order to allow it to make money through advertising. And while Facebook certainly ought to be able to ban people from violating its Terms of Service, does it not at least owe someone an explanation other than "you violated our Terms of Service"? After all, these are usually very complicated, and often times vague legal style documents.

Its quite possible that someone can violate any website's Terms of Service and not realize it. Oftne times these violations are really subject to debate. This type of issue has also come up with Apple when developers have their apps rejected for often times unknown violations of their App Store Standards. In Apple's case, these vague responses are even worse because developers pay money to submit an app to the store.

People also complain about Google's responsiveness when they have problems with their free services like Gmail. Since so many of the money making websites that we may develop are "free" and use an ad-based model for revenue, the question becomes... what do we owe our users?

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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