Page last updated at 19:15 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Facebook offers control to users

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Mark Zuckerberg, AP
The changes were unveiled by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook has responded to criticism over the way it handles user data by handing over control to its users.

Members of the social network will have comment and voting rights over the firm's future policies regarding how the site is governed.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg said the aim was to "open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future".

Privacy International's Simon Davies said the move was "unprecedented".

"No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratisation," he said.

"The devil will be in the detail but, overall, we applaud these positive steps and think they foreshadow the future of web 2.0."

Mr Zuckerberg admitted that the recent changes to the website's terms and conditions had sparked a "firestorm".

Some people might be wondering what the fuss is exactly about? After all, nobody ever reads the terms and conditions or terms of service documents on a website."
Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Users had complained that it appeared Facebook was claiming ownership of their data - even if they delete their accounts.

The founder said: "We do not own user data, they [users] own it. We never intended to give that impression and feel really bad that we did."

Facebook has announced a new set of governing principles and rights and responsibilities.

Under the changes, users will be able to first comment and then potentially vote on future changes to the documents.

Facebook will enact a vote on changes to its governance when more than 7,000 comments have been made by users on a topic.

Mr Zuckerberg told BBC News: "We think that is pretty reasonable.

"We have designed the votes so a small minority of users cannot create a binding election."

Facebook is the largest social network in the world, with more than 175 million users. The controversy over Facebook's use of personal data is not the first time it has had a run in with users.

It angered some members in the past when it introduced a new advertising system, called Beacon, which delivered adverts to users on external websites based on their Facebook profile and habits. Beacon was quickly changed in order to give users an opt-in or opt-out button from the service.

The Facebook charter states:
Users own their data and can remove it when they want
Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations
Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities

Included in the new Facebook principles are specific details regarding the ownership of data.

It states: "People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service."

Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook had undertaken to carry out all of its business within the framework of the new governance documents.

"We trust our users. We are making this so that we can't put in place a new terms of service without users' permission."

He said he hoped the new policy would "strengthen the community and the bonds between us and the users".

He told BBC News that he believed that opening up decisions about the future policies of the social network was not incompatible with doing business.

He said: "The important thing to keep in mind is that we are strengthening the trust people have in us.

"We believe that good dialogue we will get us to the right place... where everyone is more involved and happy."

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