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Facebook revises user policies after complaints, questions

updated 11:05 pm EDT, Fri April 20, 2012

More clarity but no change on privacy issues

Following a lengthy period of questions, comments and complaints about the difficulty users have in controlling privacy, Facebook has posted a series of proposed revisions to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and is extending the comment period. The company continues to struggle with balance between gathering information about users for the benefit of both other users and advertisers, while addressing concerns of users, most of whom do not fully understand Facebook's data collection.

Recently the company renamed its "privacy policy" to "data use policy" to reflect more accurately what they do with the data collection. Being social in nature, Facebook naturally collects large amounts of data about what users say, do and know on the service -- which it uses to target advertising, develop or refine services, and keep people in touch with each other. Users, however, complained bitterly when the company disclosed that "crossover" data is also collected -- for example, Facebook apps that a users' friends enjoy can collect what data those friends know about other users, if that person didn't add the app.

In its FAQ to the questions posed from the last round of comments, Facebook has clarified that this policy has been in place since 2007. It also reminds users that more granular privacy controls are available in the users' privacy settings, though Facebook does little to educate users or draw attention to these features, and many users complain that they are well-hidden and difficult to use. Periodic changes in Facebook's service means that users must fairly frequently go and review the privacy settings over and over again to be sure that new services don't assume consent to sharing data.

The biggest change to Facebook has been the slow rollout of Timeline, a controversial design change that gives the pages a more visual emphasis but also makes it easier for visitors to research everything a user has put up as a status or photo. With the change, many have found that they need to adjust privacy settings, sometimes down to individual postings.

Facebook also clarified a change in its prohibited speech policy, changing the wording from "harmful" to "hate speech," a more specific term. "Sometimes discussions on Facebook include controversial content - even content that someone may view as 'hateful,'" the company wrote in it FAQ. "While we allow discussion of controversial ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not tolerate hate speech. It is a violation of our terms to disparage an individual or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition."

Other clarifications deal with users who tag other users against their wishes, applications sharing data without user knowledge, and other topics. One section that the company said was "open to misinterpretation" and subsequently deleted in the revision was widely seen as giving Facebook the right to censor activists and other users. Ultimately, however, the fundamental nature of Facebook -- that it collects data wherever possible, and that it is up to the user to manage and control this manually -- remains intact. Comments on the revised policy are due by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, April 27th (a month later than originally posted).

by MacNN Staff



  1. aardman

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Management by naughty 5 year olds

    Facebook Ethics: Our actions are guided not by what is right or wrong but what we can and cannot get away with.

  1. chas_m



    Dear Everybody in the World

    Facebook and Google are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing: internet companies that give you pretty toys for free in exchange for knowing everything there is to know about you and selling that information to advertises (mostly) and anyone else who might want to know.

    As for Aardman's observation that FB (and Google) are run by naughty five-year-olds, that may be true -- but the majority of the users are giving away their "store" in exchange for free baubles, so that puts them at about the greedy three-year-old level.

    I'm not saying this from Mount Olympus either: I have an account with both services, tailored as much as possible to give out as little info as I can. Most users can't be arsed to do the work.

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