Zuckerberg Responds to Concerns About Facebook’s Updated Terms of Service

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Two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it had updated its terms of service, consolidating its various documents into one. Today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to concerns some have expressed about changes to the way Facebook treats ownership of user data.

Zuckerberg writes,

Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information.

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. 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 email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment.

We still have work to do to communicate more clearly about these issues, and our terms are one example of this. Our philosophy that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant. A lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you. Over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.

In particular, the section of the TOS which has elicited the most response is Facebook’s updated “Licenses” section, which states:

You are solely responsible for the User Content that you Post on or through the Facebook Service. 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.

In other words, by using Facebook, you’re (legally) giving Facebook a broad set of rights regarding any content you publish to the service – even if you delete your account.

As is the case with most websites, most users are unlikely to be terribly concerned with changes to the Terms of Service unless something bad were to actually happen. While the theoretical and legal debates around privacy certainly abound, ultimately, the operative word in this discussion is “trust.” And Facebook is certainly deeply aware that its continued success significantly depends on its ability to maintain increasing trust with its ever growing user base (now 175 million people around the world).

Facebook is at the forefront of many complex privacy issues facing large consumer web companies. Not only does it face complex challenges of balancing revenue-generating priorities with user privacy, but it also faces complex challenges of balancing user desires for complete control of their information with user desires to grant others some control over certain parts of their information as well.

As Zuckerberg writes,

People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other. 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.

We’re at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out. It’s difficult terrain to navigate and we’re going to make some missteps, but as the leading service for sharing information we take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously. This is a big focus for us this year, and I’ll post some more thoughts on openness and these other issues soon.

We’ll continue following Facebook’s approach to user control and ownership of information – as well as the way Facebook handles related issues for businesses and developers operating on the Facebook Platform and through Facebook Connect.