Facebook to create 'bill of rights'

Scott Duke Harris
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Facebook, angling to turn a recent user rebellion to its own advantage, called upon the users themselves Thursday to help formulate what has been portrayed a kind of "bill of rights" to govern the social networking giant.

The proposed "Facebook Principles" cover such topics as the "freedom to share and connect," "fundamental equality" and "ownership and control of information." Facebook users, now numbering 175 million around the world, are being invited to review, comment on and ultimately vote on the proposals in "a virtual Town Hall" over the next 30 days.

"This is really a move we're making because we trust our users," Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said. "If we have a good, open dialog, we feel this will strengthen the community and strengthen trust and loyalty."

Facebook devotees quickly responded to the invitation for commentary, and privacy advocates applauded Facebook's move.

"We think it's good news," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Facebook backtracked on a revision to its terms of service last week after a group of users protested the changes and EPIC prepared a complaint it intended to file with the Federal Trade Commission.

It was especially important, Rotenberg said, that Facebook's draft principles declared "people should own their own information."

"That's really the heart of it," Rotenberg said. "I don't think privacy issues are going to be easily solved, but I think it is important for Facebook to say Facebook users own and control their information."

Facebook's action, Rotenberg said, could have a broad impact on business practices on the Web: "It's the most active online community in the world, and what Facebook does has a very big impact on lots and lots of services."

Facebook makes money through advertising and sale of digital gifts, but it is exploring new revenue sources.

Suspicions about Facebook's intentions arose in recent weeks after it published a revision in its terms of service. The actual intent, Facebook executives said, was to streamline the document and minimize legalese. But "mistakes" made by Facebook led to "confusion," Zuckerberg said.

In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Zuckerberg suggested that the controversy accelerated an initiative already brewing within the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company. "What we announced today isn't really in response to last week. It's something we've actually discussed for a while," Zuckerberg said.

Without the controversy, "we probably would have phased it in over time," he added. "This is a pretty unique opportunity where people care deeply about the governance of the site. Now is a perfect opportunity to roll something like this out and get a real dialog about the issues."

Promoting "openness and transparency" is at the core of Facebook's mission, Zuckerberg said. "Openness and transparency, instead of just being an end state, has to be a process in how we get there."

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