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Democracy (Sort of) Comes to Facebook

Facebook today rolled out a change to its terms of service, after an earlier attempt went terribly wrong. What’s most interesting about the new terms is Facebook’s commitment to transparency and its willingness to put future changes that generate a lot of controversy up for a vote.

You can find a link to its new Principals (akin to the U.S. Constitution) here. These principals will govern its future Terms of Service (akin to the the laws enacted by the U.S. Congress), which are now called the Statement of Rights & Responsibilities. Facebook users have until March 29th to comment on aspects of both “documents;” it will then take those comments into account in a republished version. It will also publish a summary of the most significant comments and a response to those comments, when appropriate.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a conference call touted the effort as one way to keep Facebook’s incredibly diverse community of users involved and participating on the socail networking site, but I bet it ends up showing Facebook and the irate blogosphere how little people care about terms of service agreements, even if they are written in “plain English.”

So when Zuckerberg says this step is “all about trusting our users,” I expect he’s trusting most of the 175 million folks using Facebook to shrug their shoulders and forget about commenting on and reading these updates — much like so many people tend to do at the polls. Perhaps some issues, such as the inability to delete information from a closed account or the proposed sale of your data to Russian hackers might get some attention, but on Facebook, as in America, the laws for the many will likely continue to be determined by the few who care most.

And as Om notes, while asking users to help craft user agreement is a noble idea, it’s hardly a novel one. Joe Smarr, CTO of Plaxo , created similar bill of rights in September 2007. And we put together a privacy manifesto for the Web 2.0 Era last year. So far, none of the web companies are really up to the snuff. Definitely not Facebook.

11 Responses to “Democracy (Sort of) Comes to Facebook”

  1. NavyWings

    Facebook is taking up the position of “also ran” very well. They are far from the leader in any serious aspect of the social media arena. They hardly listen to users unless virtually beaten up in the media. They’ve blocked any ability for a user to sync the very info their friends have made public to them to their own address book of mobile service.

    Facebook better wake up very soon if they ever plan on being known as anything more than a “kiddie app.” Right now they can’t be taken seriously in the business realm if they block business functionality thet their users have been demanding for quite some time. ust look at the grass roots petitions started on Facebook. Users aren’t too happy.

    Plaxo, LinkedIn and yes, even Twitter will be considered mature business social media outlets far before Facebook will ever be. The flap over something as trivial as ToS and the resultant length of time for Mark Zuckerberg to even address it is evident of what you get when kids build pseudobusinesses.

  2. jon lemmon

    Everything in their new policy’s look fine and dandy until you get to the section in their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” stating:

    “2.3 …you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, publicly perform or display, distribute, modify, translate, and create derivative works of (“use”) any content you post on or in connection with Facebook. This license ends when you delete your content or your account.”

    It’s so ambiguous. Imagine you upload a photo, and Facebook automatically distributes the photo to business partners. Then you take your photo off Facebook. Facebook will no longer have the right to distribute that photo, but legally, I’m guessing that the companies they’ve distributed your photo to still have the right to use it however they want.

    Essentially they have a lot of room to exploit loopholes to make this statement invalid:

    “This license ends when you delete your content or your account.”

  3. When the heartburn went down a week ago, I said that I thought that this was much ado about nothing but that it should be a (fixable) wake-up call for Facebook that they need to better establish a better bond with their community.

    My suggestion then was to simply pledge to be open, honest and earnestly engaged. It looks like that is exactly what they are doing.

    Here is original post, if interested:

    Why Facebook’s Terms of Service Change is Much Ado About Nothing