Facebook has called a press conference for 11AM Pacific Time Thursday where Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to outline steps the company is taking to clarify its terms of service contract that caused a privacy uproar earlier this month.
Attendees were notified “(Zuckerberg) will announce the new steps Facebook is taking to improve user understanding and ownership of the Facebook terms of service and, more generally, the policies of the Facebook service.”
Facebook had updated its terms of service earlier this month in hopes to clarify what user generated Facebook content it owned.
Originally the change went largely unnoticed until a bloggers caught wind of the change. The details of the terms of service change were highlighted in an extremely popular blog at the Consumerist Website where people felt Facebook’s new terms of service meant “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.”
On February 17 Zuckerberg hoped to calm privacy fears amid a user revolt. In a blog post Zuckerber explained the terms of service were revised so that Facebook had the right to share your information with your Facebook friends. Zuckerberg went on to say that Facebook would not, in practice, “share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.” That didn’t satisfy thousands of Facebook users who protested the change calling Zuckerberg’s explanation unclear.
Consumer privacy advocate group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), as a response to Facebook’s change to its terms of service, said it intended to file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. “What we sensed was taking place was that Facebook was asserting a greater legal authority over the user-generated content,” says EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.
Facebook Opens Governance of Service and Policy Process to Users
Releases Draft Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities For User Review, Comment and Vote
“As people share more information on services like Facebook, a new relationship is created between Internet companies and the people they serve,” said Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. “The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share.”
“This is an unprecedented action. No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization,” said Simon Davies, Director, Privacy International. “The devil will be in the detail but, overall, we applaud these positive steps and think they foreshadow the future of web 2.0. We hope Facebook will realize these extraordinary commitments through concrete action and we challenge the rest of the industry to exceed them.”
Facebook will continue to make independent decisions about the timing and rollout of products. While these must be consistent with the Principles and in compliance with the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, they will not be subject to the notice and comment or voting requirements.
Principles of the Facebook Service
The Facebook Principles are derived from the belief that certain values should guide the company’s efforts to achieve its mission of making the world more open and connected. The 10 Principles include the “Freedom to Share and Connect”, “Fundamental Equality” of people on Facebook, “Ownership and Control of Information,” and other basic tenets of the Facebook service. Achieving these Principles should be constrained only by limitations of law, technology, and evolving social norms about sharing.
Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
The document, which condensed almost 40 pages of legal jargon into fewer than six pages, emphasizes clarity and accessibility. It 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 document also codifies the specific requirements that users be given notice, an opportunity to comment, and, in certain cases, approval authority through a vote for policy changes.
More About the New User Participation Mechanisms
Transparency and User Input
Facebook committed to holding virtual Town Halls following the announcement of the new Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for 30 days, with the comment period scheduled to close at 12:01 am PDT on March 29. During this time, users have an opportunity to comment on the proposed policy. This also addresses specific concerns raised by users on the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Group. Users are invited to comment on the Principles, and on the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, by joining the following new groups specifically created for such comments; Principles at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=54964476066; and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities should join the group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=67758697570.
After the comment period ends, Facebook will review and consider submissions. Facebook will then republish the Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, incorporating any changes it has made. The company will also provide users a summary of the most common and significant comments received, including its response to those comments where appropriate.
If these documents are approved, then all future policy changes would be subject to notice and comment periods of varying lengths depending upon the nature of the change. Following the comment period, Facebook would publish a final policy proposal that reflects the comments received.
Following the first Town Halls, The Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities will be the first set of policies subject to a vote, which may include other alternatives. The vote will be open to all Facebook users active as of February 25, 2009. The results of the vote will be made public and will be binding if more than 30% of all active registered users vote.
If users approve the draft Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, then all future policy changes would be eligible for a vote by users, provided the level of intensity of user interest would justify it. User interest would be determined by the number of users who comment on any proposed change during the comment period.
Facebook also announced its intention to establish a user council to participate more closely in the development and discussion of policies and practices. As a start, the company indicated that it would invite the authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents to serve as founding members of the group.
Other Third-party Reaction
Facebook shared today’s news with industry experts and concerned users who offered the following comments in response.
“This truly breaks new ground by sending a message to the Facebook community that their expectations about how information is used really do matter,” said Jules Polonetsky, Co-Chair and Director of the Future of Privacy Forum. “A company formally handing over a business decision to a user vote is a dramatic step forward for transparency and user control.”
“Facebook’s decision to adopt a notice and comment model of rulemaking demonstrates a truly unique commitment to transparency,” said Aron Cramer, President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility. “This step sets a new standard for corporate transparency and stakeholder engagement by applying the principles of social networking in fundamentally new and important ways.”
“The idea that a major company like Facebook would give it’s users a vote in how the service is governed is remarkable,” said Julius Harper a Facebook user and a co-founding administrator of the People Against the new Terms of Service group on Facebook. “This decision should go far in restoring people’s trust, and I hope it sets a precedent for other online services to follow.”