Professor: Facebook’s approach to user terms unusual

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    Editor’s note: This story was revised for accuracy at 7:35 p.m. Thursday.

    Facebook’s initiative to compile users’ opinions and to help establish the future terms of use can be considered unusual in the business world, a media law professor said.

    Chip Stewart, assistant professor of media law in the Schieffer School of Journalism, said it’s unusual for any company to negotiate with its users what the legal relationship between them is going to be.

    “If people feel like their voices have been heard, and they feel like they have had real impact on these terms, that has a lot of value,” Stewart said. “… it may avoid legal problems later on.”

    Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, wrote in a blog post Feb. 26 that the groups “Facebook Town Hall: Proposed Statement of Rights & Responsibilities” and “Facebook Town Hall: Proposed Facebook Principles” will compile users’ opinions to help establish the future terms of use and to create clearer language between the community and the Web site.

    Stewart said users questioned the intentions behind Facebook’s permanent license and want reassurance that the site won’t use it without users’ permission.

    “What Facebook is trying to do is convince people [it] is not doing it because [Facebook] has some nefarious purpose in mind,” Stewart said. “It’s the only way [Facebook] can manage the site and servers.”

    According to the site, users will be allowed to vote on items within the two documents called the Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities before both proposals go into effect.

    The Facebook Principles document will define user rights and collaborate their discussions to form the overruling principles of the site, according to “Facebook Town Hall: Proposed Facebook Principles”.

    According to Zuckerberg’s blog post, the principles will become guidelines for future changes made to any of the policies on Facebook.

    On the “Facebook Town Hall: Proposed Rights and Responsibilities” page, the group lists three major issues in conflict with the Facebook community and a rough draft of the document that will replace the Terms of Use, Developer Terms of Service and Facebook Advertising Terms and Conditions, according to the group page.

    According to “Facebook Town Halll,” the three major issues in conflict are Facebook’s power over user content and the license’s length of time, users’ right to receive notifications of policy changes and the use of a clear and simple language within policies.

    According to “Facebook Town Hall” page, the community wants Facebook to assure users they own their content.

    According to the proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, user content will be deleted upon user request, but content shared with others may remain on the site until the secondary user deletes it. The document also states that account deactivation will cause Facebook’s license to expire.

    Also included in the rough draft of Facebook’s new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, is the addition of a rule prohibiting registered sex offenders to join the Web site, which was absent from the previous Terms of Use.

    Facebook will allow users to comment on the groups about both documents until 2:01 a.m. March 29.