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Facebook COO: Never a “Substantive Change” to Terms of Service

Posted by: Douglas MacMillan on April 08, 2009

In an interview with BusinessWeek editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, held this week at New York’s 92YTribeca, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg insisted that updates the company made to its terms of service contract in February were not “substantive,” a suggestion that in her view, the resulting user outcry over the changes may have been overblown.

We’re pretty widely recognized as at the forefront of defining real privacy and protecting it. That’s the substance of where we come from, where we’ve always come from. I think about a month ago, we republished our terms of service. In language that was kind of very legalese and not very understandable, which appeared to have broader claims to that data. But there was no substantive change at all.

No change? That’s not what watchdog blog The Consumerist believed when it posted the alarming headline, “Facebook’s New Terms of Service: ‘We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content Forever.’” Nor was that the takeaway for tens of thousands of Facebook users who formed activist groups on the social networking site in protest of the new contract. Even privacy experts like Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center warned of “material changes” to the new contract that “eviscerate privacy rights,” and prepared to tell as much to the Federal Trade Commission before Facebook backed down.

Facebook has done the right thing and involved its community in revising the contract. The company may need to show extra sensitivity to its users’ privacy concerns to avoid conflict down the road.

Why did Facebook want a “perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license” to its users’ content and why shouldn’t these licenses expire when users leave the site? As a Facebook user, I’m not sure these questions have been answered.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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