- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

Facebook users Wednesday posted about seven comments per minute claiming they will not allow the popular social networking site to control or republish a user’s page content. The comments came even after the site reversed its recent change in user policies hours earlier.

The founder of the site, Mark Zuckerberg, announced late Tuesday that his site was backing away from the changes to its terms of service, that many users argued gave the site the ability to control user information, even after they close their accounts.

“Beware, Facebook, for we the people took basic level logic courses in college, thereby providing us with the knowledge required to interpret seemingly favorable changes in a terms of use for what it truly is: Pirating!” wrote Beau Bernis, a Facebook member in the North Carolina State University network, on the wall of group Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. “You forgot that you are dealing with a generation of Net-pirates. Are we hypocrites? Maybe … blame the record companies for making us bitter when they closed Napster!”

Many users also threatened to leave the site if its terms of service are changed again.

“I don’t appreciate that facebook would be able to own our photos or other info without asking first,” said Stephanie Carrion from the D.C. network. “I actually would cancel my account.”

Suzie White, Facebook’s corporate counsel for commercial transactions, posted new terms of service to the Facebook blog Feb. 4, the site’s fifth anniversary. The clause, which has most users upset, explained the ownership of information published by the individuals who use the site.

“When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site,” the terms read. “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display … and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.”

In his blog late Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg explained the administration’s plan for reevaluating the terms of service. He also said the policies released Feb. 4 will be rewritten and the site will return to the old system in which it is unable to reproduce individual member content.

“Our terms aren’t just a document that protect our rights; it’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world,” said Mr. Zuckerberg, whose site boasts about 175 million users. “Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service.”

He added: “As I said [Monday], 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.”

Yet, within the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities group, members made it clear that a rewrite in simpler language is not what they want.

“I’m not satisfied with Facebook’s response, in which they seem to be saying that they aren’t going to fundamentally change anything, just put their new TOS in easier to understand language,” wrote Nevada user Melanie Robbins. “It’s fundamentally wrong, and should be against the law, for a company like Facebook to appropriate for all time content generated by members even after the member deletes his/her account and against the member’s specific wishes not to send that content forth beyond his/her friends.”

The Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities group, which is open to any Facebook user, allows members to provide feedback on policies and service agreements.

One member, Olaf Derwojed from the Ireland network, opened a poll within the group asking whether members would want notification each time Facebook provided their information to a third party. An overwhelming majority of users were in favor of such a motion. The group had close to 6,000 members by Wednesday evening.

Within the description of the group, the Facebook administrators apologized for the misunderstanding.

“We apologize for the confusion around these issues,” the administrators wrote. “This was a mistake and we apologize for the confusion.”

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