Facebook Proposes Broad Updates To Governing Docs — Our Analysis

Facebook is proposing a broad range of updates to its governing documents, the company announced today. It’s a complex combination of simple clarifications and significant changes.

The updates could impact everything from the company’s pending location service, to developers and advertisers on the platform, to how users can represent themselves and interact with each other on the site, to how third parties can obtain user data without explicit permission. The last point is perhaps the most interesting.

But first, some important information to take note of.

Facebook has been trying to give users more clarity around its various terms of service, and this is its latest effort on that front. The company says users will have around seven days from now to provide feedback — until 12:00am Pacific Time on April 3, 2010.

We should also note that the changes today, to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and its Privacy Policy, now include red-lined versions to help people easily see any alterations. This was a heavily requested feature from people who care about these terms. Links to the documents here.

Also, the changes are meant to help prepare users and the company for future launches, as it says “not all of these products have been finalized and many aren’t yet built at all.” Many of the possible launches, though, are likely come at its f8 developer conference happening on April 21.

Now, here’s our look at what appear to be the most significant differences in the documents, in the order they appear in each document. We’re passing over the smaller changes and most of the clarifications, but be sure to check out the red-lined version for yourself, if you’re interested in every detail.

Statement of Rights and Responsibilities

For clarity, we’re putting new text in italics, using the proposed version of each document.

4. Registration
2. You
personal profile.
3. If we 
account, you will
 create another

Analysis: Lots of users have more than one account, whether to establish a private versus more public identity, or because they want an extra one to play games with, or whatever other reason. Facebook doesn’t want this happening, though, because it wants a single user identity to accurately reflect all of the person’s real-world relationships. Also, the latter line suggests Facebook wants to make its right to keep people off the site even more obvious.

5. Protecting Other 
People’s Rights
9. You will 
not tag users 
or send
 to non‐users
 without their consent.

Analysis: It’s hard to see how Facebook can enforce the fact that a user has obtained consent before tagging someone or inviting them to Facebook or to an application on the site. But it’s interesting that the company added “tag users” here, anyway, because the European Union is currently looking into privacy practices among web companies including Facebook.

One result, for example, is an article like this one from the Associated Press: “You have been tagged in 12 photos. Even if you’re not signed up to the Web site.” The lede obviously refers to the fact that Facebook users can tag people in photos who are not on Facebook, and notify those people via email that they’ve been tagged — one of the EU’s concerns. Whatever happens with the EU, Facebook appears to be making a pre-emptive move on the photo-tagging example by using its terms to put the responsibility on users when they use the feature.

6. Mobile
3. You provide all rights necessary to enable users to sync (including through an application) their contact lists with any basic information and contact information that is visible to them on Facebook, as well as your name and profile picture.

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