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Experts: Facebook Must Rethink TOS Stance - InternetNews.
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Experts: Facebook Must Rethink TOS Stance

Privacy and Facebook TOS
Facebook's CEO wasted no time responding to complaints that erupted over the weekend to changes in the social networking site's Terms of Service (TOS) agreement it requires for membership.

Mark Zuckerberg posted a blog Monday that defended his company against charges that Facebook now lays claim to its users' information even after they leave the service. "In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want," he said.

But analysts and observers of the social network scene said Facebook needs to do more to address users' concerns.

"I don't think Facebook's response was good enough," said IDC analyst Caroline Dangson. "Users want active control of their information and they don't have that now.

"People have been very open about their lives on Facebook, but perhaps they'll be more careful about what they post in light of stories like this," Dangson told InternetNews.com. "The TOS said Facebook has the right to use, copy, publish, stream store and transmit your content. Until Facebook changes the TOS, I don't think it's made a serious response to its users' concerns."

Despite Zuckerberg's response, outcry over the matter continues snowballing. A Facebook group protesting the changes counts close to 45,000 members.

It's also the second major outcry prompted by Facebook's plans around its users' content. The site's controversial Beacon advertising service automatically placed ads in members' profiles based on their activities -- and sparked a similar backlash shortly after it debuted in 2007.

The social networking site ultimately apologized and scrapped Beacon, but the product still resulted in a pair of class-action lawsuits.

Now, the new flap has industry watchers thinking back to how much Facebook learned from it earlier debacle.

"This is looking like Beacon," Dangson said. "Users are using the Facebook platform itself to protest. I think if enough users voice their concern, Facebook will backtrack."

However, she did credit Facebook for having made some changes in the past designed to improve users' privacy -- like adding granular privacy settings that enable users to filter what a coworker sees, versus family and close acquaintances.

Facebook did not respond by press time to a request for an interview. In his blog post, Zuckerberg framed the changes to the TOS as a legal necessity to allow users to share information.

"Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with," he wrote. "When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they've asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn't help people share that information."

But the TOS license gives Facebook the rights to a user's data that could be used in ways far beyond those intentions, observers said.

"As I read it, the TOS gives them the right to do whatever they want to with user's content," social media consultant Paul Gillin told InternetNews.com.

"This is like Google saying, 'Anything you post to Blogger belongs to us'. If Google or Wordpress did that, there'd be a massive revolt," said Gillin, who writes the weekly Paul Gillin's Social Media Report newsletter. "Facebook has got to change this."

Others see only a distant likelihood of Facebook abusing its users' content.

"While Facebook has the right to publish its users' private information, you can bet that any hopes of remaining a viable business would disappear within minutes to hours after the company decided to do so without the permission of those users," Michael Dortch, an independent IT analyst, told InternetNews.com.

"People want and need to believe they maintain ultimate control over their private, personal information, no matter what Terms of Service they might sign -- and the businesses holding that information must maintain that perception of ultimate user control, if those businesses want to keep those users happily in the fold," Dortch said.

Still, Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, thinks Facebook should rethink its policy toward content ownership, and do a better job of showing just who owns what.

"The rights to anything on the site should go to the person who created it," he said. "The service provider, in this case Facebook, should be clear about this. Right now, they are not giving users a clear sense of what control they're giving up."

Bajarin points to other sites, like Yahoo's photo-sharing site Flickr, which makes clear the photographer is the rights holder.

"Facebook could do the same thing; I don't see any downside to that."