I blogged yesterday about the controversy surrounding Facebook’s new terms of service. This morning when I logged in to Facebook (I should note that I use it just about every day), there was a big banner message announcing that the company was returning to its old terms of service, pending their total redrafting. And the company has established a Facebook group to solicit comments and questions about that revision process — a group that, at this minute, has already gathered 62,786 members.
On one hand, as Dan Solove suggests, “Facebook continually sparks privacy dust ups, but to its credit, Facebook is quick to respond and [to] reform its policy in response.” On the other hand, those repeated “privacy dust ups” display a pervasive failure to understand the importance of privacy to users, and indeed a real detachment from user sentiment. Every time this happens, Facebook apologizes but seems mystified (and perhaps a little peeved) that users just didn’t understand that the company meant to help us. I found it especially naive, almost absurd, when the announcement of Beacon took such pains to emphasize that Facebook protected users’ private information from advertisers, without ever anticipating that people might also rebel against unexpected disclosures to their friends.
In contrast to earlier issues like Beacon, I do agree with Facebook that the proposed changes to the terms of service actually were not such a big deal. But that’s all the more reason to roll them out slowly, carefully, and transparently, rather than simply plopping them onto an obscure page of the web site as if they were trying to be sneaky. By their failure to anticipate a backlash, they unnecessarily undermined user trust and gathered a whole bunch of bad media attention. If they had launched this cooperative revision process before they got in trouble, we’d all be praising them.
That’s the third time this has happened, Facebook. Do you get the message yet?