updated 11:05 pm EDT, Fri April 20, 2012
More clarity but no change on privacy issues
Following a lengthy period of questions, comments and complaints about the difficulty users have in controlling privacy, Facebook has posted a series of proposed revisions to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and is extending the comment period. The company continues to struggle with balance between gathering information about users for the benefit of both other users and advertisers, while addressing concerns of users, most of whom do not fully understand Facebook's data collection.
In its FAQ to the questions posed from the last round of comments, Facebook has clarified that this policy has been in place since 2007. It also reminds users that more granular privacy controls are available in the users' privacy settings, though Facebook does little to educate users or draw attention to these features, and many users complain that they are well-hidden and difficult to use. Periodic changes in Facebook's service means that users must fairly frequently go and review the privacy settings over and over again to be sure that new services don't assume consent to sharing data.
The biggest change to Facebook has been the slow rollout of Timeline, a controversial design change that gives the pages a more visual emphasis but also makes it easier for visitors to research everything a user has put up as a status or photo. With the change, many have found that they need to adjust privacy settings, sometimes down to individual postings.
Facebook also clarified a change in its prohibited speech policy, changing the wording from "harmful" to "hate speech," a more specific term. "Sometimes discussions on Facebook include controversial content - even content that someone may view as 'hateful,'" the company wrote in it FAQ. "While we allow discussion of controversial ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not tolerate hate speech. It is a violation of our terms to disparage an individual or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition."
Other clarifications deal with users who tag other users against their wishes, applications sharing data without user knowledge, and other topics. One section that the company said was "open to misinterpretation" and subsequently deleted in the revision was widely seen as giving Facebook the right to censor activists and other users. Ultimately, however, the fundamental nature of Facebook -- that it collects data wherever possible, and that it is up to the user to manage and control this manually -- remains intact. Comments on the revised policy are due by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, April 27th (a month later than originally posted).