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2/26/2009
04:47 PM
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Facebook Opens Site Rules To User Voting

"The Facebook Principles" and "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" may signal a shift in social networking best practices.

Facebook puts it thus in its new Principles: "People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service."

Facebook now appears to be serious about turning that sense of ownership into more than a feeling. By adopting a notice and consent model, where user input and votes matter, Facebook has seized the privacy high ground and, for the time being at least, turned potential foes into putative friends.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, for example, called the announcement "an unprecedented action" and said that "no other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization."

That's a significant endorsement because Davies hasn't shied away from criticizing large companies for their privacy practices in the past. His organization's 2007 report on search engine privacy gave low marks to Google, an event that apparently led to whisperings from Google's public relations machine that questioned Privacy International's neutrality and prompted Davies to demand an apology from Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Schrage helmed Google's communications team at the time, so perhaps that incident provided a template on how not to handle privacy concerns.

Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the Future of Privacy Forum, offers superlatives to match Davies': "This truly breaks new ground by sending a message to the Facebook community that their expectations about how information is used really do matter," he said in a statement. "A company formally handing over a business decision to a user vote is a dramatic step forward for transparency and user control."

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