Facebook backs off changes to terms of service

Facebook founder and CEO Marc Zuckerberg reverted to the social networking site's old "terms of use" agreement Tuesday night, undoing a legal change that implied the site might own its members' information forever.

"Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information," says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on Facebook's official blog. "Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised."

Facebook recently changed its terms of use, the legal language found at the bottom of many websites, causing an uproar among members who feared losing control of data they posted to the site. Zuckerberg apologized for the confusion surrounding the revised terms, and indicated Facebook still plans to update the terms moving forward, a process the company expects to be completed in the next few weeks.

"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," he wrote. "Our next version will be a substantial revision from where we are now. It will reflect the principles ... around how people share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in langauge everyone can understand. Since this will be the governing document that we all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these issues."

Facebook has also created a Bill of Rights and Responsibilties Group, where members can begin posting questions and comments. By early Wednesday, the group had nearly 25,000 members (Facebook itself has 175 million members.)

The controversy exploded Sunday after a consumer rights advocacy blog, The Consumerist, flagged a change earlier this month to Facebook's terms of use agreement.

Facebook removed language that said if you remove anything you've posted to Facebook, the company relinquished any rights to it with the exception of keeping an archival copy.

The Consumerist interpreted the deletion to mean that "now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington planned to file a complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission asking Facebook to go back to its original agreement.

"I think in simple terms it's a tug of war over user data," says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. "People put information on a Facebook page to share with friends. But it's pretty much with the understanding that they're deciding what to post and who has access to it."

On Facebook, more than 43,000 members joined a community group protesting the language change. Overall, Facebook has 175 million members worldwide.

"Go ahead and be outraged," wrote blogger Amanda L. French after comparing Facebook's agreement with agreements at MySpace, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter. "Facebook's claims to your content are extraordinarily grabby."

In his blog post Monday, Zuckerberg acknowledged the "difficult terrain" and potential "missteps." "We take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously."

But this isn't the first time Facebook has met controversy. In 2007 the company let users opt out of a tracking tool called Beacon after at first being reluctant to do so. "Sometimes they push a little far," Rotenberg says.

For his part, Rotenberg isn't about to ditch the service. "Concerns about privacy are not the reason to not use Facebook," he says. "It should be the reason to fix Facebook."

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