Facebook’s theatrical rights and wrongs

In February, Facebook’s newly issued terms of service, which “implied that Facebook owned any content posted to the site, even after an account was terminated, forever and ever”, were hastily revoked. The site apologised and promised to work with users to develop new terms.

As a result, Facebook asked for constructive comments on a set of new “rights and responsibilities”. As University of Cambridge researchers including our Advisory Council member Richard Clayton have made a detailed analysis (link to PDF), we have taken the opportunity to back their study, and have communicated this to Facebook’s public consultation. In short, the study finds that the draft terms had worthy goals, but fail the stated goal of fairness and equality.

The report labels the process for revising the terms as ‘democracy theatre’ as “the goal is not to actually turn governance over to users, but to use the appearance of democracy and user involvement to ward off future criticism.”

Despite setting admirable and user-friendly goals in plain language in the Statement of Principles, these are wholly undermined – for legal and business reasons – in the accompanying Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

We hope Facebook take a detailed look at the response that Light Blue Touch paper have prepared. They have pointed out a number of inconsistencies and contractual imbalances, which Facebook now have the opportunity to correct. Facebook needs to be fair to their users, who they depend on for a business.