A View from Erica Naone

Facebook Draws Up a Bill of Rights

The social network promises to let users vote on changes to its terms of service in the future.

  • February 26, 2009

Last week’s scandal over Facebook’s updated terms of service produced a big reaction from the social network today: Facebook is now promising to let users comment on all changes to policy and, in some cases, vote on them. It all came about after Facebook changed its terms of service to allow the company to retain user content even after an account is terminated. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post that the changes were simply meant to reflect what was already happening.

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. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

However, this didn’t satisfy users who worried about granting Facebook a never-ending license to their data. So today, Facebook announced 10 guiding principles and a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for community review. Facebook says that the latter document, which is six pages long and written to be accessible to the average person, reaffirms “that users, not Facebook, own the content they share through Facebook services and that Facebook’s permission to use that content expires when users delete the content or terminate their accounts.” The company also promised to start a “user council” that would have input in policy decisions.

In a press conference, Zuckerberg said that recent events, as well as controversies over other Facebook updates such as the News Feed (which broadcasts information about users to friends) and Beacon (an advertising campaign that published certain user purchases), had caused the company to rethink how it makes changes that affect the Facebook community.

“This is all about us trusting our users,” Zuckerberg said, promising that the changes make it so that Facebook can’t just put new terms of service in place without warning. Facebook notes, however, that it still reserves control over the timing of products and how they are rolled out.

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