Facebook Invites More Comment on Policy Changes

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Facebook began notifying some of its members Friday night that it is reopening the comment period for changes in its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR).

In a message sent to more than 2000 members who "liked" the Facebook Site Governance Page, where the social network fields comments about the SRR changes, the social network said:

"Based on your feedback, today we announced new revisions to the proposed changes to the SRR. Even where we did not make revisions, we have provided an explanation of the original change. We’ve re-opened the comment period for the new proposed SRR to provide you with another opportunity to review the proposed changes and give us feedback before we finalize them."

Members have until April 27 to comment on the latest version of the SRR.

One of the recent changes to the SRR strikes a section of the document that could have been interpreted as empowering Facebook to block the use of the service by selected users or activists. Those changes [PDF] provided that:

"Some or all of Facebook’s services and features may not be available to users in certain geographic areas.  We reserve the right to exclude or limit the provision of any service or feature in our sole discretion."   

Facebook said it is scrapping the section based on comments from its members. "After reviewing your comments to this proposed language, we decided that the additional provision we proposed was open to misinterpretation," it explains. "The proposed change was intended to cover circumstances that may prevent us from providing our services. For instance, the Internet may go down, certain features may not be available in some locations, or a regime may block our service in their country."

In addition to asking for more comments on its SRR, Facebook also took the opportunity to address criticisms of the previous draft of the document.

For example, one critic said changes in the SRR were designed to allow Facebook to expand its data collection activities from its members. Facebook said that isn't so. How it collects and uses data is governed by its Data Use Policy, which isn't changing at this time.

It's easy to understand how people can be confused by Facebook's moves. Throughout the SRR, all references to "privacy policy" -- the former name for the Data Use Policy --- were changed to Data Use Policy. That made some commenters believe that the SRR and Data Use Policy were the same document.

Replacing "privacy policy" with "data use policy" in the SRR was done to make the SRR consistent with the Data Use Policy, which was renamed in September 2011, Facebook explains.

The SRR was also rapped for allowing a member's friends to share the member's information with apps used by the friends. Facebook says that change, too, was made to make the SRR jibe with the Data Use Policy which, since 2007 has read:

"If you, your friends, or members of your network use any third-party applications developed using the Facebook Platform...those Platform Applications may access and share certain information about you with others in accordance with your privacy settings."

Facebook adds that users can control how their data is shared with apps. However, it entails hunting through privacy controls and making "granular" changes to an account.

Provisions on tagging Facebook members in photos are also being altered in the SRR. Facebook is removing a prohibition against tagging members who don't want to be tagged and replacing it with a notice that the social network "offers social reporting tools to enable users to provide feedback about tagging."

The earlier version of the revised SRR elicited many comments from members on a number of topics unrelated to the SRR itself, including their distaste on the network's Timeline redesign. It also required Facebook to give members a vote on proposed changes in the SRR if more than 7000 of them posted a comment on the changes. That's been changed to make obtaining a vote more difficult:

"If more than 7000 users post a substantive comment on a particular proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives."

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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