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Facebook’s Voting on ToS by jigordon
April 7, 2009, 9:32 am
Filed under: copyright, current events, EULA

[Disclaimer:  While I’m a Facebook user, I do not know all of the ins and outs of this particular issue, as I’ve not paid too much attention since they rolled back to the old ToS.]

Facebook has announced that they plan to have members vote on the new Terms of Service they’ve been working on.  In fact, they even say that it’s been a group of Facebook lawyers and a group of law students.

Facebook lawyers, with the help of law students, have been reading the 3,000-plus comments, and the administrators of the original protest group against the terms of use changes are consolidating the feedback in a list of “key concerns,” according to Facebook. The company has also sought input from privacy, copyright, and Internet legal experts.

OK, so I’m glad that they’re seeking input from privacy and copyright experts, too.  Even more interesting, though, is that unless 7,000 people submit comments, they’re only going to take the response as advisory.

Facebook will hold a vote on any proposed change if at least 7,000 members submit comments. The results of the vote will be “advisory” if less than 30 percent of Facebook active users participate in the process. If 30 percent or more of active members vote, the results of the vote will be binding, according to Axten.

In theory, that’s very representative.  If the people don’t feel the need to vote, those that do shouldn’t be counted as a representative sample of the entire population.

But let’s also be honest and say that the average teenager does not have a complete understanding of copyright, privacy or any of the other potential legal issues strewn about a Terms of Service document.  To them, music has always been “free”, digital nannies are more effective at stopping them from copying Wikipedia articles for school papers than the fear of punishment, and privacy is something they can control through the use of fake identities online.  It’s not that they’re unable to comprehend, they just haven’t had to do so up to this point.  When given the choice of “Accept” or “Reject” when installing software… how many of you read the language and then click “Reject”?

So while I think it’s commendable that Facebook offer up it’s proposed ToS to the user population for a vote, I think it’s ultimately going to not be an effective means by which the “public” will get Terms of Service that are truly acceptable to them.  The simple truth is that Facebook is a service.   They offer it to the world for free and they have created a Terms of Service document which governs the user’s use.  If the user doesn’t like the ToS, they shouldn’t use the service.  Facebook should have some sort of internal moral compass to not do anything that’s a violation of their user’s rights (even if their users don’t fully understand such rights), but that isn’t a legal requirement.  At the end of the day, Facebook should post it’s Terms of Service in both legal and layperson’s terms – disclosing the good (and more importantly) the “bad”… in detail.

Hopefully, potential users can then make an informed choice about how they wish to use the service.

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