Facebook backpedals on terms snafu, seeks advice

Switching it up a bit from its usual privacy-undercutting changes to their Terms of Service, Facebook's recently changed ToS slipped in new language that many users identified as a violation of personal privacy and copyright... and, after mass uproar, promptly rolled them back again.

Controversial Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg described the changes to the ToS as an attempt to "clarify a few points for our users," but close reading of the new terms indicated it might not be that simple. (Of course, Zuckerberg claims in the same post that "In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want," an assertion that anyone who's attempted to quit the service and remove all their information can easily refute.)

In the previous version of the ToS, the section concerning the license granted by users to Facebook read like this:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

Okay, but the ToS also used to say:

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

That language was removed in the new version of the ToS -- and promptly restored, as Facebook announced late Tuesday night that it will return to the previous ToS while the company figures out how to make the changes it deems necessary.

The uproar clearly made a remarkable impact on the company. "Many of us at Facebook spent most of today discussing how best to move forward. One approach would have been to quickly amend the new terms with new language to clarify our positions further. Another approach was simply to revert to our old terms while we begin working on our next version. As we thought through this, we reached out to respected organizations to get their input," wrote Zuckerberg in the late-evening post. "Going forward, we've decided to take a new approach towards developing our terms."

The "new approach" includes a new Facebook group, "Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities," which as of 4am EST had 9.706 members.

According to Facebook representatives, the changes were made to deal with the fact that many pieces of information you might put on Facebook actually exist in multiple places. (Think e-mail, where both you and the sender have a copy of the letter.) If you delete your account after posting to a friend's Wall, that comment remains even after you've gone. The changes, Facebook says, reflect that situation, as well as the use of information possibly provided to third-party application and features providers.

But it was never supposed to get this weird. The final paragraph of the rights-and-responsibilities group's introductory statement says, "We apologize for 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. This was a mistake and we apologize for the confusion."

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