The Facebook Terms of Use Debate—We Care Because It's Social

Who reads terms of use? More people when it's a social space.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I'm a reasonably engaged Facebook user: I update my status with regularity, have a few friends, and diligently maintain the Thomas Jefferson Street blog page (more than 100 readers signed on). But I was wholly unaware of the great Facebook Terms of Use debate until the evil corporation had surrendered.

I suspect part of the reason for that is identified by my friend Rob Pegoraro in his Washington Post tech column today:

... why would anybody pay more attention to Facebook's terms of service than to the other contracts we casually accept? Who reads the roughly 17,500-word "terms and conditions" contract governing Apple's iTunes Store before buying a song? Who digests Microsoft's nearly 5,500-word license for Windows Vista before booting up a new PC?

Who indeed? A sufficient number of Facebookers for a start. And of course the critical difference is that unlike iTunes, Vista, and that new PC, Facebook is an ostensibly social space. We live with (or more precisely, ignore) terms of use on appliances and furniture—whether DVD players or couches or operating systems. But if someone changes the way we can use a social space, or the consequences of it ... that's a different story.

With something like Facebook we have a great sense not only of control but of the right to control the rules by which the space is run.

By the way, on his blog, Rob links to an interesting blog post detailing the differences between the "new" (now repealed) Facebook terms of use and those of similar sites. The short story is that the "new" Facebook terms were as invasive as advertised, relatively speaking.

So what now? Facebook walked back its "new" terms and is promising to include users in the process of writing new rules through its "Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" group. Of course, the basic issue with the "new" rules related to lawyers running amok, so it will be, ahem, interesting to see how well the lawyers work in a crowdsourcing environment.

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