Facebook changes on data retention spark protests

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 8:25 PM

NEW YORK -- Tens of thousands of Facebook users are protesting new policies that they say grant the social-networking site the ability to control their information forever, even after they cancel their accounts.

Facebook's new terms of use, updated Feb. 4, largely went unnoticed until the popular consumer rights advocacy blog Consumerist.com pointed out the changes Sunday.

That prompted a clarification from Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, although the new terms remain in force. Zuckerberg told users in a blog post Monday that "on Facebook, people own their information and control who they share it with."

When someone shares a photo, a message or a status update telling friends what they are up to at the moment, they first need to grant Facebook a license so the site can pass that information along to authorized friends, Zuckerberg said. Without the license, he said, Facebook wouldn't be able to help people share information.

Zuckerberg said the new terms are necessary to reflect the fact that friends may retain a copy of that message or other information once a user shares it with them.

"Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message," Zuckerberg said. "We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like e-mail work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear."

Zuckerberg did acknowledge that Facebook, which boasts 175 million users around the world, still has "work to do to communicate more clearly" about how information is shared on the site.

The rapidly growing site has had several run-ins with users over its short history.

In late 2007, for example, a tracking tool called "Beacon" caught users off-guard by broadcasting information about their shopping habits and activities at other websites. After initially defending the practice, Facebook ultimately allowed users to turn Beacon off.