Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Victory: Facebook Reverts to Previous Terms of Service

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, has a new post on the official Facebook blog. It states that they have decided to revert to their old terms of service in light of overwhelming customer feedback. I applaud their actions and reasoning. The most critical line from the blog entry is:

  • Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

I understand the reasons behind Facebook's changes in the first place, and as a free service they were not completely unexpected. It wasn't the changes themselves but more so their method and explanations. For an organization with as large a client base as Facebook to not see the big picture -- the overall implications -- of its changes is unforgivable. They would do well to take a close and hard look at the capabilities of those that made the decision and their ability to see beyond the first step or two afterwards. The explanations, while reasonable, were too little and too late. Had the original message contained those explanations as well as advance notice of the change, things may have turned out differently. Now, I am not saying that there wouldn't have been some uproar, but I truly believe it would have been a vocal minority and not so newsworthy.

In the end, it wasn't the protests of millions of users that forced Facebook to blink, it was the widespread press coverage. Nearly every new program, paper, and information outlet carried the story and those outlets reach people that Facebook covets -- the uninitiated. How easy is it to add subscribers when every news outlet has a story about the "underhanded" tactics and "secret changes" that the company makes. Many also resurrected the bad publicity surrounding Facebook's "Beacon" initiative some time ago, another issue that caused users to be concerned over their privacy on the service.

Mark Zuckerburg did the only thing he could do, return to the old terms. I hope he and his management team take away a valuable lesson on how to handle these sorts of changes in the future. According to the post, they plan to completely revamp the TOS, using plan and easy-to-understand language. They are even offering users an opportunity to get involved in crafting it. You've got to love the response.

More coverage can be found at:

CNET: Facebook backs down

PC World: Privacy Change Sparks Federal Complaint

PC World: Facebook's Zuckerburg Calms Privacy Fears over TOS Change 56 Percent of Facebook Users Want the Old ToS Back

NY Times: Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use

Balto Sun: Q&A On Facebook terms of service

CNN: Facebook backs down, reverses on user information policy

Wall Street Journal: Facebook Backs Away From Policy Change

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