Facebook Users Voting On New Terms of Service
Facebook is waiting to see the results of its experiment in user democracy: Six days ago, it invited its users to vote for or against two documents governing how the popular social-networking site operates, and the balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time tomorrow.
I pretty much told Facebook to do this in a column written after a revision to its terms of service set off what passes for civic unrest on the site. So I was glad to see this election happen and was pleased to cast my own vote earlier today.
(The usual disclaimers apply: Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors; Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly is a friend from college.)
Not to strip away every bit of mystery about my vote, but I am also pleased with the substance of those two documents (each available in French, Italian, German and Spanish translations).
One, the "Facebook Principles," sets out the broad goals the site aims to accomplish -- things like "Freedom to Share and Connect" and "Open Platforms and Standards." It's supposed to be the rhetorical foundation of any specific policies
The other one, Facebook's "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities," sets out those policies -- and, compared to most terms-of-service documents, does so in uncommonly clear language. For example, its section on what Facebook can do with the things you write, post or upload on the site begins with a simple statement:
You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how we share your content through your privacy and application settings.
It then explains that you have to give Facebook permission to publish your intellectual property ("IP" for short) to your friends, then says that Facebook's rights to your stuff end when you delete your account:
This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account (except to the extent your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it).
It's not quite written in grade-school English, but it doesn't lodge in your throat like unchewed legalese anymore.
Two other notes posted on the Facebook Site Governance page list Facebook's responses to comments about these two documents. You can consider them the rough equivalent of a programmer's comments in an application's source code or the legislative history of a bill -- not legally binding, but useful in interpreting these rules.
The note about the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is particularly enlightening. It clears up such mysteries as why Facebook demands that you update your mobile-phone number within 48 hours of changing it ("we settled a class action brought by people getting charged for text messages intended for Facebook users"). It also clarifies the Statement's prohibition against using Facebook's "copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665) without our written permission":
What we mean here is that you may not use any of these words in a way that infringes our trademark rights. But it does not prevent you from making a nominative or fair use of those words, like telling people "I have an account on Facebook."
Of course, that's the sort of thing that should be spelled out in the Statement itself. And had I gotten off my duff and read these documents during their drafting phase, I would have posted a comment saying exactly that. Instead, I neglected to follow this process for the wrong few weeks.
For that matter, I don't remember taking any note of the Facebook home page's reminder to "Vote on Facebook's Governing Documents" for the first few days it appeared--unless it did, in fact, only show up today. Have others been following things more closely than I have? After I voted, Facebook's site informed me that 377,036 users had cast a ballot. (It also listed the current vote totals, but it doesn't seem quite fair to throw those numbers out here.) Thing is, Facebook now has some 200 million total. So unless there's some last-minute surge in voting, we're looking at pretty low turnout compared to even the most consequence-free real-world election.
If you're a Facebook user, have you voted? Why or why not?
April 22, 2009; 7:00 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , The business we have chosen
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