In nod to users, Facebook opens vote on terms of service

After outraged users slammed the social networking site, Facebook gives them the vote

About two months after outraged users hammered Facebook Inc. for taking too much control over their content, the social networking site is now giving users a chance to vote over site governance issues.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post yesterday that users can vote to choose one of two Terms of Service options - the current terms-of-use rules and a new set of rules called the Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. The new set of rights and responsibilities went through a 30-day user comment period, while the original terms of use were created and implemented without input.

Facebook is giving users the vote after irate users slammed the company for changing its terms-of-use policy to seemingly enable Facebook to maintain broad control and archive data that users had deleted. Under the previous terms of use, Facebook was not granted any rights to deleted material.

After users rose up and complained about the new terms of service en masse, Facebook announced that the site was returning to its previous terms-of-service plan. About a week later, Facebook announced that it would be seeking user comments on two new documents - Facebook Principles and its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

"We encourage you to participate and make your voice heard," wrote Zuckerberg. "For this vote and any future one, the results will be binding if at least 30% of active Facebook users at the time that the vote was announced participate."

Since Facebook announced just last week that it had snagged its 200 millionth user, that means 60 million people will need to vote to make the results binding.

"I think these new terms on data ownership and usage will go a long way toward assuaging the feelings of those who protested earlier," said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Facebook is at least nodding to user concerns by allowing voting, but the requirement that 30% of active users need to weigh in in order for the vote to be binding is a bit onerous. I'd be surprised if they get anywhere close to that number of responses."

Olds also noted that users might be happier with the new documents, which cut out some of the technical jargon and back off on content ownership issues.

"Facebook's new terms and conditions are much more readable than the typical legalese in the last version," he added. "It clearly outlines Facebook's terms of service in a way that should be understandable to the majority of users. The terms are also more user-friendly. A few weeks ago, users choked at the idea that Facebook owned all of their content until the end of time. The new, and much more reasonable, policy is that Facebook can use the data until the account is closed or the data deleted by the user."

People can vote until 11:59 a.m. PDT on April 23. The results will be tallied by an independent auditor, according to Facebook.

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