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Facebook Changes Terms of Service, Then Changes Back

Today's decision by Facebook to rescind changes to its terms of service, which would have permitted Facebook to use and retain user content for its own purposes even after users left the site, proves that even widely popular and successful companies are neither above the law nor above the demands of their users. For those who missed the story, a few days ago Facebook amended its terms of service to allow Facebook to use any content uploaded by users as the company deemed fit, even after users closed their accounts and left the site, according to Consumerist, which discovered the changes. Prior to Facebook's changes, the terms of service provided that any rights to content that the company claimed would expire.

Facebook's changes raised privacy concerns, because users who left the site would lose the ability to control use of the information they posted. For that reason, the Electronic Privacy Information Organization mobilized to file a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission, challenging Facebook's retroactive changes to its terms of service.

But it wasn't threat of legal action that persuaded Facebook to change its policy. Instead, according to the The New York Times, Facebook succumbed to pressure from users, who created Facebook groups to complain about the company's new policies. Fearing the backlash, Facebook reverted to its original terms of service.

In reading about the incident, I noticed a bit of irony. Facebook users don't pay to use the site, yet were able to use their collective will to force changes. By contrast, as Jordan Furlong describes at Law 21, many powerful corporate clients are still having difficulty in forcing law firms to reduce their fees. Perhaps GCs should take a lesson from Facebook users.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 18, 2009 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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