Facebook changes terms of service, unchanges them after mass complaints

By By Rob Tokanel, News Staff

For a few weeks this month, Facebook owned the personal property of more than 175 million people, and they never had to give it back. But following a string of protests from confused users concerned for their privacy, Facebook executives restored the site’s original terms of service last week, assuring its users they had no plans of hoarding the goods forever.
Websites use terms of service pages to outline the rules of conduct for their site and to gain the legal right to store users’ information. For Facebook, this means pictures, videos and any other personal information users post about themselves.
On Feb. 4, Facebook changed the language in its terms of service, deleting a section assuring users they would be able to remove their own content from the site to negate the owner’s license at any time and adding a section explaining that Facebook would retain ownership of the information after accounts were removed.
Public reaction to the move was overwhelmingly negative. Protest groups began to appear on the site, prompting Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain his reasoning for the change on the Facebook blog.
‘A lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you,’ he said. ‘Over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.’
Communication studies professor David Monje said the change surprised him because with the new wording, there was no way of knowing what Facebook would do with the information or how long they would retain it.
‘Who wants to see pictures of me and my wife standing in front of a historic landmark,’ he said. ‘Probably no one. But people use Facebook in such diverse ways. They put poems and music online. Is Facebook planning on saving information like that?’
Zuckerberg posted on the blog again Feb.17, explaining that Facebook had decided to revert to its original terms of service until it could better decide how to revise it in a way that would appease users and satisfy the site’s needs.
‘I think it was smart to change it back, and hopefully they’ll be more transparent with their practices when they deal with things like this in the future,’ Monje said.
Facebook created a group on the site where users can provide their input about changes they’d like to see in the terms. The group says Facebook never claimed to own anyone’s information and the mistake was strictly a semantic misunderstanding. So far, the group has more than 83,000 members.
Jessica Ogonor, a sophomore business major, said she didn’t think the conditions of the new terms of service, prior to them being changed back to the original wording, were fair because they invaded peoples’ privacy.
‘People put too much online, and when you go on co-op you have to make your account super private,’ she said.
Monje said he wondered what the implications would be for students’ futures if Facebook were allowed to hold on to people’s private information long after they had deleted their accounts.
‘Somebody with a Facebook account right now who’s in college is probably going to run for president at some point in time, so it’s interesting to think [what the implications of the privacy issues could be],’ Monje said.

Leave a Reply