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About-Facebook: Zuckerberg Relents On Privacy Rules

Social networking site's CEO reverses course on new polices that drew fire from users.

K.C. Jones

February 18, 2009

3 Min Read

Facebook has reverted back to its old terms of use, just days after CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a blog post that recently revised terms were intended to make the site's policies clearer to users.

Zuckerberg said Monday that members own their information on the site and control who sees it, but when they delete their accounts, Facebook retains the right to the information, so friends still have the information that was shared.

Although Zuckerberg said that the new wording was aimed at clarifying Facebook's policies rather than changing them, users protested. Many expressed distrust and aired suspicions that the site would sell or share their information with third parties.

He said that people want full ownership of their information and the ability to move contact information and photographs to other services, but they also want to be able to block access to their own information whenever they choose.

"These two positions are at odds with each other," he explained. "There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with."

The new language gave Facebook "irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid worldwide license" to material on the site. Users protested on the site, while external groups also took action. The Electronic Privacy Information Center threatened legal action.

Tuesday night, after failed attempts to allay users' fears, Zuckerberg did an about-face and said that Facebook would revert to its old terms and conditions while attempting to resolve the issues that critics had raised.

In the meantime, the site has created a "Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" and a forum where users can discuss the issues. "As we thought through this, we reached out to respected organizations to get their input, Zuckerberg said in his blog post Wednesday. "Going forward, we've decided to take a new approach towards developing our terms. We concluded that returning to our previous terms was the right thing for now. As I said yesterday, we think that a lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective so we don't plan to leave it there for long."

Zuckerberg said Facebook will substantially revise its terms of use to clearly reflect how users share and control information. He said the new terms will incorporate and reflect input from users.

"You have my commitment that we'll do all of these things, but in order to do them right it will take a little bit of time," he said. "We expect to complete this in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we've changed the terms back to what existed before the February 4th change, which was what most people asked us for and was the recommendation of the outside experts we consulted."

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.

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