Facebook backs down -- again.

Sometimes I wonder what's on Mark Zuckerberg's calendar. Along with notes for birthdays and holidays, I'm beginning to suspect he has an early February reminder that goes something like, "Make draconian change. Anger users. Back down."

If you've been following the recent tsunami among Facebook users, you know about the recently discovered change in the service's Terms of Service (ToS), in which Facebook apparently claimed ownership of everything you uploaded to the service forever, even after you closed the account. Once it was revealed by The Consumerist, the population of Facebook exploded. A group was immediately formed. People declared their intention to immediately delete all their photos or other copyrightable work, or to leave Facebook completely. Non-Facebook members looked on smugly. The Web simmered.

At first, Facebook issued the usual, "No, you can trust us. We're good guys," statements that most users treated with all the respect statements like that deserve. In a time when companies are bought, sold, and traded like baseball cards, you can't count simply on the goodwill of the current owners -- especially when you have a ToS that says otherwise.

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Facebook backtracks on usage policy

Last night, Zuckerberg announced in a blog entry that Facebook is going to "return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised." He continues to explain that the Facebook crew does plan to change the ToS within a few weeks and, to his credit, asserts that Facebook users "will have a lot of input in crafting these terms."

I'm glad that Facebook is taking these steps. Obviously, Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook staff are willing to change their minds if a move turns out to be wrong (or, at least, enormously unpopular).

But it's interesting to note that this is not the first time Facebook has had to react to member anger. Almost exactly a year ago, in February, 2008, Facebook faced demands from several thousand users that they be allowed to permanently delete their accounts and all content associated with it.

Sound vaguely familiar? It's almost as if Zuckerberg (or Facebook's legal team) has an annual appointment to try to keep -- and possibly use -- as much member content as possible, whether or not the members are still part of the service. 

So here's some advice for Facebook: Next year, if you start getting the February doldrums, try throwing a party, or take a trip, or maybe buy yourself a new company or two. Just leave the users -- and their content -- alone. It's really not worth the fuss.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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