Facebook Proposes Minor Changes to Its Governing Documents

Facebook has just posted a proposed set of changes to its governing documents for Facebook users to comment on. The changes focus on restricting the transfer of user data when application developers merge or are acquired, making application privacy policies more easily accessible, and allowing users to control how their names and pictures are used commercially.

Most of the points have appeared in various Facebook policy documents already, especially its developer policies, or are intended to reflect past upgrades to existing products. Overall, the change today show that the company is trying to communicate a clear and uniform set of rules, rather push a major shift versus what it has already been doing.

Additional points addressed in the changes include notifying advertisers that ads won’t always reach their intended targets, allowing Facebook to require third-party developers to delete user data if it’s misused, requiring users to comply with all applicable laws, and bringing social plugins under the definition of Facebook. Governing documents would also now be available in many different languages, but the English version would control if there are inconsistencies.

We’ll examine them in more detail below. Note that the comment period is open from now until 5:00 PM PDT on September 23, 2010, and the changes will go to a vote if they receive more than 7,000 comments.

Facebook developed the “notice and comment” system for changing its governing documents in February of 2009, and held its first vote in April of 2009. Changes are announced, immediately beginning a 7 day comment period. If more than 7,000 comments are received, the changes go to a vote where users may be proposed alternative changes in addition to option to vote up or down. If more than 30% of Facebook’s monthly active users support the changes, they become binding, and if less than 30% support the changes become “advisory” (i.e. non-binding). Voting takes place through the Wildfire voting and app and results are independently audited by accountancy firm Ernst & Young.

To date there have only been 134 comments with just over six days left in the comment period.

The following are the proposed changes to the governing documents (in bold), and our commentary of what they respond to and how they’ll affect Facebook (in brackets):

This agreement was written in English (US). To the extent any translated version of this agreement conflicts with the English version, the English version controls.

[This prevents inaccurate translation from altering the documents.]

9. Special Provisions Applicable to Developers/Operators of Applications and Websites
If you are a developer or operator of a Platform application or website, the following additional terms apply to you:

2. You will have a privacy policy that tells users what user data you are going to use and how you will use, display, share, or transfer that data and you will include your privacy policy URL in the Developer Application.

[This ensures applications have a privacy policy in place upon launch. Facebook has required similar sorts of disclosures before, but the wording here requires more specific compliance.]

7. You will not sell user data.  If you are acquired by or merge with a third party, you can continue to use user data within your application, but you cannot transfer user data  outside of your application.

[Facebook has similar wording in its policies already, notably via a May update to its developer policies, although this more clearly restricts how acquiring companies use data that they gain from purchased companies.]

8. We can require you to delete user data if you use it in a way that we determine is inconsistent with users’ expectations.

[Along with being able to turn off a developer’s access to the Facebook Platform, Facebook enforcement methods for sanctioning misuse of data include the ability to force developers to delete user data. Facebook has also had similar wording around this in its developer policies.]

10. About Advertisements and Other Commercial Content Served or Enhanced by Facebook on Facebook

1. You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, or sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.

[By giving users the power to control how their names and likenesses are used by brands they like, Facebook protects itself from lawsuits that accuse it of facilitating the exploitation of minors by advertisers when a minor Likes a brand or ad and is then shown as associated with the brand in social context ads and news feed stories.]

11. Special Provisions Applicable to Advertisers
1. When you place an Order, you will tell us the type of advertising you want to buy, the amount you want to spend, and your bid. If we accept your Order, we will deliver your ads as inventory becomes available. When serving your ad, we do our best to deliver the ads to the audience you specify, although we cannot guarantee in every instance that your ad will reach its intended target.

[This protects Facebook from advertisers who complain that users who lie about their age or other data used in ad targeting are causing ads to not be shown to the audience the advertiser paid for. The wording here helps protect Facebook against clients upset by incorrectly targeted ads.]

2. In instances where we believe doing so will enhance the effectiveness of your advertising campaign, we may broaden the targeting criteria you specify.

[This brings the option in the Facebook Ads Manager to show ads to users just outside an ad’s parameters into the governing documents.]

17. Definitions
1. By “Facebook” we mean the features and services we make available, including through (a) our website at www.facebook.com and any other Facebook branded or co-branded websites (including sub-domains, international versions, widgets, and mobile versions); (b) our Platform; (c) social plugins such as the like button, the share button and other similar offerings and (d) other media, software (such as a toolbar), devices, or networks now existing or later developed.

[This applies any rules and policies of “Facebook” to social plugins as well.]

18. Other
10. You will comply with all applicable laws when using or accessing Facebook.

[Users must comply with local laws when using Facebook. The company has had similar wording already.]

To access the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities in several different languages, change the language setting for your Facebook session by clicking on the language link in the left corner of most pages. If the Statement is not available in the language you select, we will default to the English version.

[Governing documents are now available in languages other than English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.]