Facebook Members Condemn Terms of Use

Dennis Faas's picture

Privacy-minded Facebook members and consumer advocacy groups were victorious this week in forcing the colossal social networking site to reverse policy changes that threatened confidentiality and user control.

Members once again blew the whistle on potential privacy violations resulting from adjustments to the license on user content. The problematic terms of service gave Facebook "irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license" in relation to user content for "promotional efforts," and also stipulated that deletion of the member account would not constitute expiry of the aforementioned terms.

The adjusted terms of service (TOS) had been in place for several weeks, generating member protest groups and polls which indicated growing dissatisfaction with Facebook's policies. Several thousand signatures may not be a huge percentage in terms of Facebook's massive 175 million users, but it was significant enough to draw the attention of advocacy website The Consumerist, which immediately sounded the alarm. (Source: cnet.com)

Facebook Content and Privacy Issues

While the legal jargon can be hard to navigate, it was pretty clear that Facebook's terms of service gave the site unlimited use of each member's posted content. In an age where most of what we do in daily life can and does make it onto the net, privacy issues such as those raised by the Facebook TOS are of increasing importance. Just how much control over our content should we be entitled to?

These questions are taken very seriously by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research center based in Washington D.C. EPIC heard the TOS alarm bells ringing loud and clear, and was prepared to file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. With over a dozen consumer advocacy groups on board, there was significant public pressure on Facebook to revise the TOS adjustments. (Source: epic.org)

Zuckerberg Reverses Changes to TOS

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the decision to reverse the changes made to the TOS and to restore the previous version was an internal, organizational response to "the issues that people have raised." Zuckerberg posted statements in the Facebook blog indicating that the Facebook team "reached out to respected organizations to get their input" and that they have concluded the TOS language is "overly formal and protective." (Source: facebook.com)

While reverting to the previous language of the TOS is a step in the right direction, Facebook's historical pattern of privacy scares is still cause for concern. Most Facebook users will recall two earlier instances of privacy violation: the first occurring with the release of the News Feed feature without adjusting privacy settings accordingly, and the second with the launch of the advertising program called "Beacon" which was heavily criticized by consumer advocate groups. (Source: cnet.com)

However, it does appear that Facebook will be taking user privacy concerns more seriously from now -- and if we take Zuckerberg's comments at "face value," the company does have plans to develop Terms of Service in accordance with what users want. Zuckerberg, using a delightful analogy to describe his online social kingdom, equates Facebook to "the sixth most populated country in the world [if it were a real country]" and as such describes the TOS as a governing document. In keeping with this analogy, Zuckerberg promises that future amendments to the TOS will "reflect the principles and values of the people using the service." (Source: facebook.com)

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