Facebook ‘withdraws’ data changes

19 Feb Facebook ‘withdraws’ data changes

BBC News, February 18, 2009
The founder of Facebook says the social network will return to its previous terms of service regarding user data. In a blog post Mark Zuckerberg said the move was temporary “while we resolve the issues that people have raised”. Users had complained after new terms of service seemed to suggest Facebook would retain personal data even if someone deleted their account. Originally defending the changes, Mr Zuckerberg had said it was to better reflect how people used the site. He had said the changes were made to ensure that if a user deleted his or her account any comments or messages he or she had left on a friend’s Facebook page would not also disappear. In his updated blog entry, Mr Zuckerberg said: “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. 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 users were advised on the change with a notice posted to their pages when logging in to the service. He added: “Our next version will be a substantial revision from where we are now. It will reflect the principles I described yesterday around how people share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand.” He said Facebook would draw up a new governing document in conjunction with its users. The row and reaction to the Facebook changes to its terms of service reflect a wider issue about user data and who owns the personal information – from comments, to photos and videos – stored on social network accounts, and what happens to it if a user decides to leave a service. Simon Davies of Privacy International called the change “a breach of faith by Facebook”. “People are entitled to be outraged. It flies in the face of the commitments that the company made to protect user privacy and to improve user controls,” he told BBC News. Mr Davies criticised the company for allowing commercial and legal concerns to override its commitment to users, saying: “It appears to going down the same road as Google. Its halo is starting to slip.” “Now, there are other kids on the block, like Twitter, Facebook can only survive a certain number of disasters like this. It will only last three years if it continues to make these errors.” Facebook should commit to a privacy policy that would allow users to delete all data from its systems, including back-ups, within a specified time period, recommended Mr Davies. He also advised users to “ratchet their privacy settings up to the maximum” to restrict advertisers’ access to their data and ensure that their details are fully protected. Earlier this week Mr Zuckerberg had likened the persistence of data across the social network, even after a user had decided to leave the service, to e-mail. In the US, public interest group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center had warned it would file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about the new terms of service. “We think that Facebook should go back to its original terms of service,” Epic’s executive director Marc Rotenberg, told PC World website.