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Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Facebook retreats on new terms of use after protests

BACKPEDALING Tens of thousands of users were angered by the language used in a revision to the terms of service agreement. A new one will be written

AP AND AFP , NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON

In an about-face following a torrent of online protests, Facebook is backing off a change in its user policies while it figures how best to resolve questions like who controls the information shared on the social networking site.

The site, which boasts 175 million users from around the world, had on Feb. 4 quietly updated its terms of of service — the online agreement that users must accept to join — including language giving Facebook “perpetual worldwide license” to anything posted on the network.

The changes sparked a massive uproar after popular consumer rights advocacy blog Consumerist.com pointed them out on Sunday, in a post titled “Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: ‘We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.’”

Facebook has since sought to reassure its users — 85,000 of whom had joined protest groups on the site — that this was not the case. And on Wednesday morning, users who logged on to Facebook were greeted by a message saying that the site is reverting to its previous terms of use policies while it resolves the issues raised.

Facebook spelled out — in plain English rather than the legalese that prompted the protests — that it “doesn’t claim rights to any of your photos or other content. We need a license in order to help you share information with your friends, but we don’t claim to own your information.”

The protest groups on Facebook, said the new terms granted the site the ability to control their information forever, even after they cancel their accounts.

This prompted a clarification from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, who told users in a blog post on Monday that “on Facebook, people own their information and control who they share it with.”

Zuckerberg also acknowledged that a “lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you.”

But this wasn’t enough to quell user protests, and the site also created a group called “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,” designed to let users give input on Facebook’s terms of use.

It also apologized for what it called “the confusion around these issues.”

“We never intended to claim ownership over people’s content even though that’s what it seems like to many people,” read a post from Facebook on the bill of rights page.

The latest controversy was not the first between the rapidly growing site and its users over its five-year history.

In late 2007, a tracking tool called “Beacon” caught users off-guard by broadcasting information about their shopping habits and activities at other Web sites. After initially defending the practice, Facebook ultimately allowed users to turn Beacon off.

A redesign of the site last year also prompted thousands to protest, but in that case Facebook kept its new look.

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