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Facebook invites users to chime in on new Terms of Service

Facebook today announced bold steps to recraft its Terms of Services agreement - the legal agreement between the site and its users - by inviting users to review, comment or even cast a vote to help simplify and shape the language of the new agreement.The company took a PR beating earlier this month when a blog exposed changes to the site's TOS.

Facebook today announced bold steps to recraft its Terms of Services agreement - the legal agreement between the site and its users - by inviting users to review, comment or even cast a vote to help simplify and shape the language of the new agreement.

The company took a PR beating earlier this month when a blog exposed changes to the site's TOS. The blogosphere blew up and slammed the company for making the changes with no real notice to its users (as it's legally allowed to do under the original TOS) and highlight in detail what the changes were. The biggest exclusion was two sentences that previously had allowed users to delete content they uploaded to their accounts when and if they cut their ties with Facebook.

On a conference call with reporters today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was never trying to take ownership of the content that's uploaded to the site. He also noted that the user backlash showed the company how passionate its users are and that many of them also have a sense of ownership when it comes to Facebook. It's not the first time users have rebelled against the service. They rebelled over the Beacon ad system and, going back to the early years, also cried foul about the News Feed portion of the site.

When it comes to lessons learned, the third time just might be the charm for Facebook.

The company is opening two documents - proposed Facebook principles and a proposed Statement of Rights & Responsibilities - to scrutiny by any Facebook member. The purpose of the principles document is to create a foundation for how the rights and responsibilities are determined. The company says:

Principles reflect the philosophy and values we aspire to and will guide us in reaching our goal of making the world more open and connected – which we believe will promote greater understanding and transparency around the world.

The proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which will eventually replace the old Terms of Service, is being crafted with three major issues in mind:

  • “Forever won't work: Facebook's use of our content has to have clear limits.” We sought to address this comment in a number of ways. First, we make it clear that users own all of their content. Second, we removed the terms “perpetual” and “irrevocable” from the license grant we receive from our users. Third, we make it clear that this license ends when you delete your content or your account. And finally, we make it clear that we can only use your content in a manner consistent with your privacy and application settings.
  • “Opt-in only: Facebook can't just change the terms whenever they want.” We sought to address this comment by adopting a virtual Town Hall process for providing users with notice of proposed changes and an opportunity to comment, as well as an opportunity to vote where certain thresholds are met.
  • “Write it in English: No legalese (or Latin!) please.” We sought to address this comment by making the proposed Statement simpler and shorter, and avoiding legal terms where possible. That said, some legal concepts demand the use of very specific legal wording, so it is not possible to avoid all legal language. We look forward to your views regarding whether we accomplished our goal to make the Statement clear.

It's unknown still what sort of feedback the company might get and how that might impact the new language. Personally, I had no problems with the last set of changes to the language but was more upset that the company made the changes without any sort of real notification. I'm encouraged by these three issues highlighted by the company and commend Facebook for being responsive to the concerns raised earlier this month.