Facebook lets users set its terms and conditions

Facebook becomes a democracy - vote your own privacy terms
Facebook becomes a democracy - vote your own privacy terms

Facebook today asked its users for help in re-writing its terms and conditions, announcing The Facebook Principles, a set of values that will guide the development of the service, and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that governs Facebook's operations.

Users can review, comment and vote on the Principles and the Rights and Responsibilties at Facebook, and the company will periodically republish them, incorporating any changes.

"Our main goal at Facebook is to help make the world more open and transparent," said Mark Zuckerberg. "We believe that if we want to lead the world in this direction, then we must set an example by running our service in this way."

T&C tiffs

Facebook attracted widespread criticism when it rewrote its terms and conditions earlier this month in a way that many users felt infringed their privacy and control over their own data, eventually reverting to its original T&Cs as a temporary measure.

As they stand today, Facebook's ten Principles are: Freedom to Share and Connect, Ownership and Control of Information, Free Flow of Information, Fundamental Equality, Social Value, Open Platforms and Standards, Fundamental Service, Common Welfare, Transparent Process and One World.

The Statements of Rights and Responsbility is a wider-ranging document, covering acceptable behaviour by users as well as Facebook. Significantly, the first section is labelled Privacy.

Facebook also announced its intention to establish a user council to participate more closely in the development and discussion of policies and practices. As a start, the company indicated that it would invite the authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents to serve as founding members of the group.

Open source business

In his blog, Zuckerberg says, "We sat down to work on documents that could be the foundation of this and we came to an interesting realization—that the conventional business practices around a Terms of Use document are just too restrictive to achieve these goals. We decided we needed to do things differently and so we're going to develop new policies that will govern our system from the ground up in an open and transparent way."

He acknowledges the problems that the changes to the terms and conditions have raised, saying, "Facebook is still in the business of introducing new and therefore potentially disruptive technologies. This can mean that our users periodically experience adjustments to new products as they become familiar with them, and before becoming enthusiastic supporters."

"No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization," said Simon Davies, Director, Privacy International. "The devil will be in the detail but, overall, we applaud these positive steps and think they foreshadow the future of web 2.0. We hope Facebook will realize these extraordinary commitments through concrete action and we challenge the rest of the industry to exceed them."

Whether you're an enthusiastic supporter of Facebook or one of its growing army of critics, you can make your opinion heard and votes on the new T&Cs for the next month, until March 29.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.