Users, senators and privacy advocates criticise Facebook over proposed changes

Opinion by Dan Raywood

Facebook users are known for their willingness to fall for scams, hence why the scams are successful.

Facebook users are known for their willingness to fall for scams, hence why the scams are successful.

The latest involves users posting a statement that they believe will indemnify them against proposed changes by declaring their copyright over "all of my personal details, illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos".

Unsurprisingly, the status is being replicated across the social network and it has led to Facebook issuing a statement that acknowledged the rumour that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users' information or the content they post to the site.

“This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been,” it said.

However the basis of this chain letter is in the news that the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy have asked Facebook to reconsider proposed changes to its terms of service, on the grounds that they say that they violate commitments to protect users.

The ‘proposed updates to our governing documents' posted by Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications, public policy and marketing at Facebook, state the legalities on the collection and use of data for Facebook users.

It said: “Our goal has always been to find ways to effectively engage your views when we propose changes to our governing policies. As a result of this review, we are proposing to restructure our site governance process. We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period.”

Among the changes are a new feature to allow users to submit questions about privacy to chief privacy officer of policy, Erin Egan, who will also host webcasts on privacy, safety and security.

The changes state that users own all of the content and information that they post. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, such as photos and videos, users specifically grant Facebook "a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook".

This IP licence ends when a user deletes their IP content or account unless it has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

In terms of third party applications, this comes down to the agreement with that application on how it "will control how the application can use, store and transfer that content and information".

These, and other changes, have caused the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy to write a letter to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, directly criticising a proposal to "end the voting component" of the site governance process, also the replacement of the 'who can send you Facebook messages' setting with new filters for managing incoming messages and the integration of users' Instagram information into their Facebook profiles.

The letter said: “Facebook has been receptive to its users in the past. In 2010, you unveiled a set of simplified privacy controls in response to public criticism. And in 2009, you agreed to back off proposed changes to the Terms of Service and establish the procedures for user input.

“Now, we ask that Facebook be similarly responsive to the rights of Facebook users to control their personal information and to participate in the governance of Facebook. We ask that you withdraw the proposed changes to the Data Use Policy and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

The letter is counter-signed by a number of senators and members of the US Federal Trade Commission, while thousands of users have criticised the proposed changes and called for a vote away from the social network.

Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, said that as the changes have not yet been enforced, they will be subject to the voting process, but that the vote is only binding if a third of users take part – something two previous votes failed to achieve.

He said: “Facebook are lobbying the UK government to weaken new data protection laws and reduce our legal rights. They claim that the right to have our data back or to destroy it would be unworkable. But then Facebook go and show exactly why UK citizens need new, stronger personal data laws.”

Facebook has rode these challenges out before and managed to survive. Yet each criticism from governments must strike a blow on Facebook's privacy policy consultation, so maybe this could be the first question a user could pose to Egan?

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