An Ill-Timed Folly for Facebook

Facebook has caused quite a stir lately. About two weeks ago, it revised its terms of use, but the change caused such a turbulence in the blogosphere that the social media pioneer backed off and reverted to its old terms — at least for now.

Facebook has caused quite a stir lately. About two weeks ago, it revised its terms of use, but the change caused such a turbulence in the blogosphere that the social media pioneer backed off and reverted to its old terms — at least for now.

What temporary revision caused the uproar? Basically, the terms said members own their information on the site and control who sees it. But when they’d go to delete their accounts, Facebook would retain the right to the information, so friends still would be able to access the shared information. Facebook sated that it would have an “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid worldwide license” to material on the site, per the short-lived terms.

But after the new rules were posted, many people contacted Facebook with questions and comments about the changes and what they meant for people and their information. Many expressed distrust and aired suspicions that the site would sell or share their information with third parties. Users protested on the site, while external groups also took action. The Electronic Privacy Information Center threatened legal action.

Data-sharing issues have been dicey stuff among American consumers since well before the economy tanked. Facebook has become such an American icon that this revision was ill-timed. Facebook made a mistake and had best rectify it quickly before the site becomes just another fad.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a Feb. 16 blog post that the revised terms were intended to make the site’s policies clearer to users. “One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created — one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like e-mail work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.”

“In reality,” Zuckerberg continued, “we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want … Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment.”

Nevertheless, based on the feedback on his blog on Feb. 18, Zuckerberg said Facebook had decided to return to the previous terms of use while it resolves the issues people have raised.
But the matter isn’t resolved. The Harvard-schooled boy wonder of social media said Facebook is working on a new version of terms. The next version, he said, will be a substantial revision from where Facebook is now. It will reflect the principles of how people share and control their information, and it will be clearly written in language everyone can understand.

He also said Facebook has created a “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” and a forum where users can discuss the issues.

The incident marks the third time that Facebook has backed off changes after users voiced privacy concerns. The site’s news feed and its Beacon advertising program drew criticism, which prompted the social networking site to increase privacy protections.

So, what do you think? Is Facebook doing the right thing? Is the flip-flopping affecting your opinion of the site? Let us know.