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Facebook backtracks on Terms of Use update

February 18, 2009 |  7:08 am

Facebook Terms of Service

After outcry from just about every corner of the Web over Facebook's controversial change to its terms of use, the company has hit the rewind button.

Facebook has reverted to the previous version of the terms -- one that doesn't include the disputed clause that granted the company permission to maintain user data indefinitely, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced on a post to the company blog late Tuesday. The change came just a day after Zuckerberg's unsatisfying response to privacy concerns.

Now, Facebook is back to the drawing board to craft a less divisive set of terms. The company will put together a more approachable document with less formal language, Zuckerberg wrote on the blog. "Our next version will be a substantial revision from where we are now," he wrote.

The loud dissent over the terms-of-service alteration was akin to that of a national protest.

Zuckerberg has compared the website to an actual country in the past. Since then, Facebook's population has surpassed that of Bangladesh and Pakistan, making it the sixth most populous "country" -- for those who are keeping track.

But the Palo Alto company has taken the state analogy to a new level. The Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities is a group page that the company created to collect suggestions from users about its terms of service, which Facebook is calling its "governing document."

Every Facebook user is being alerted to changes in the terms with a box that appears at the top of the website once a user logs in. The notice contains ...

...  a link to the bill of rights group, which has begun growing at a pace of thousands of members and hundreds of discussion and wall posts per hour (32,201 members and counting). And Facebook continued to update the group description to clarify questions during the midnight hours.

Facebook is no stranger to controversy. From overzealous ad technology (its Beacon service) to activity tracking (the News Feed), Facebook has a thin line to walk when it maintains control over people's most private data. Based on the company's history of responding to such concerns, one blogger for the Industry Standard predicted quite accurately that Facebook would amend its terms of service by today.

Zuckerberg certainly didn't take the protests lightly.

"Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service," the Facebook CEO wrote. "Since this will be the governing document that we'll all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these terms."

It's certainly comforting to know that the almighty rulers of the Facebook nation are looking to run the virtual country more like a democracy than a dictatorship.

-- Mark Milian

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