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Facebook does an about face

The 175 mln users, not the Web site, own the data

Technology trends and news by Bambi Francisco Roizen
February 18, 2009
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/6dc

If Facebook were a country - and it could be with 175 million users, making it the sixth most populated country in the world - it wouldn't be a dictatorship, even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears to be the all-powerful master of the online universe these days.

Responding to a raft of protests by the people and a potential federal complaint, Facebook said on its site late Wednesday that it's returning to its previous terms of use - which are essentially rules that users have to follow while on its services, as well as guidelines on how Facebook handles its users' content. The prior terms, which were updated on Feb. 4, had an alteration that suggested Facebook would own users' content even after an account was terminated.

The changes were made in the first place to archive posts that people had shared with one another, for instance in a conversation thread.

“When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created–one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox," wrote Zuckerberg in his post. "Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message.” 

Still, Facebook gave itself wide range on usage and ownership of its rights with its updated ToS.

To that end, the complaints went flying. 

My take on this is: If you plan on exposing yourself and giving up all sorts of information on a public Web site, be ready to take the heat and lose control of that data. As I've always said, when you're on the Internet, you're pretty transparent and what you put out, stays out. 

Nonetheless, it's good - on the face of it - to have such privacy rules. Who owns the data appears to be all cleared up now as Facebook returns to its old terms. 

Now, that the people have had their say on this topic, what's next? Here's my suggestion: Can we redefine friend?

Here's more about what Facebook said. From its Web site: 

In a Facebook blog post late Wednesday, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote this:

A couple of weeks ago, we revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users. Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

Many of us at Facebook spent most of today discussing how best to move forward. One approach would have been to quickly amend the new terms with new language to clarify our positions further. Another approach was simply to revert to our old terms while we begin working on our next version. As we thought through this, we reached out to respected organizations to get their input.

Going forward, we've decided to take a new approach towards developing our terms. We concluded that returning to our previous terms was the right thing for now. As I said yesterday, we think that a lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective so we don't plan to leave it there for long.

More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. Our terms aren't just a document that protect our rights; it's the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world. Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service.

Our next version will be a substantial revision from where we are now. It will reflect the principles I described yesterday around how people share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand. Since this will be the governing document that we'll all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these terms.

You have my commitment that we'll do all of these things, but in order to do them right it will take a little bit of time. We expect to complete this in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we've changed the terms back to what existed before the February 4th change, which was what most people asked us for and was the recommendation of the outside experts we consulted.

If you'd like to get involved in crafting our new terms, you can start posting your questions, comments and requests in the group we've created—Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. I'm looking forward to reading your input.