Facebook To Adopt New Governing Documents

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Facebook intends to adopt two new governing documents following a four-day vote on the documents that was open to all Facebook users. Preliminary results indicate that approximately 74.4 percent of Facebook users who voted support the new documents. More than 600,000 users voted on the new Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, according to a blog post by Ted Ullyot, Facebook's general counsel.

Not binding, but we'll adopt anyway

However, Facebook had said that for the vote to be binding, 30 percent of Facebook's 200 million active users would have to participate. Since voter turnout failed to meet that benchmark, Facebook was required only to consider the new documents as "advisory" guidelines. Regardless, Ullyot says that if an outside auditor confirms the preliminary count, then Facebook will adopt "the Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities as the governing documents for the Facebook site." Facebook will also consider lowering the 30 percent threshold to make it easier for future votes on the governing documents to be binding.

User Backlash

The new Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities were developed to calm a user revolt over a change to Facebook's Terms of Service in February. The backlash came after the Consumerist Website published a blog alleging the now-defunct TOS gave Facebook complete control over user-contributed data, such as photos and videos, even if a user deleted her or his account and left the service.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to confront those allegations by explaining the site's rationale for the new TOS, but quickly backtracked after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) threatened to launch a federal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the new TOS. Facebook then reverted to its old TOS before presenting the two new governing documents to Facebook users for a 30-day review period. The review process ended on March 29 and the vote on the new documents began on April 20 and closed after four days of voting on Thursday morning at 11:59 AM PDT.

Third-party support

Despite the low voter turnout, Ullyot believes the documents satisfy the privacy concerns raised in February. Ullyot also said the new governing documents have wide support of "informed third parties" and previous critics of Facebook's old TOS, including the Consumerist; Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Julius Harper and Anne Kathrine Petteroe, co-founders of the Facebook group People Against the New Terms of Service, which Ullyot calls "the first and largest Facebook group against the previous change to the terms." Harper and Petteroe now oversee the group Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsbilities along with three Facebook employees, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

EPIC Battle

EPIC has not released a statement on Facebook's decision to adopt the two governing documents, and the advocacy group was not available for comment at the time of this writing. When Facebook announced in February that it would introduce the two governing documents, EPIC executive director Mark Rotenberg said EPIC supported "the effort to establish a 'principles' and also a statement of rights and responsibilities."

Any future changes to Facebook's new governing documents will require a process of ratification with periods of notification, public comments followed by a member-wide vote.

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