Who owns Facebook?
On the surface, that seems a question with an obvious answer: CEO Mark Zuckerberg, along with anyone else who owns stock in the social network.
But as more people wallpaper their Facebook pages with status updates, photographs, and video—more than half a petabyte of information flows through Facebook’s data warehouse on a daily basis—that question of ownership has taken a new and much-debated dimension: how much control do users actually have over Facebook’s policies and regulations?
The question exposes certain tensions inherent in Facebook’s very existence. On one hand, the social network needs to leverage user data in order to sell advertising. But if Facebook appears to disregard users’ privacy in the name of that advertising, it could provoke a brutal backlash. So as much as Facebook’s executives might like a free hand in setting policy, they also need to make a public show of responding to user concerns.
As such, Facebook is letting users vote on changes to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (Facebook users can vote via this link). The company will also host a live Webcast to answer questions at 9:30 AM PST. While Facebook provides access to the proposed Data Use Policy and other documents, it’s not wholly clear how the company will react if the vote doesn’t go its “way,” so to speak.
In a new “Explanation of Changes” document posted on its Site Governance page, Facebook is engaging in full-on rumor control about those changes to its privacy and advertising policies. “A number of the comments suggested that we were changing ownership of your content on Facebook,” read the note. “We’re not. This is not true and has never been the case. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our SRR.”
Next up in the discussion queue: Facebook’s proposal to add some language reminding users of the difference between privacy settings and timeline visibility preferences. “Some people asked if this means we’re removing controls you currently have over who can see the things you post. We are not,” the note continued. “We simply added this language to further explain how these privacy settings and timeline preferences work.”
That being said, Facebook plans on “adding additional language” to remind users “that you can delete things you post or change the audience at any time.”
Nor is Facebook changing its Advertising Guidelines. While the social network has “proposed new language to make it clearer that those likes and posts include topics like religion or political views,” that apparently doesn’t mean it’s altering the Guidelines themselves, “which prohibit advertisers from running ads that assert or imply sensitive personal characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.” New language will apparently make that fact clearer.
One section of Facebook’s revamped policies insists that the network can share information with its family of companies. This apparently applies to Instagram, the photo-sharing service acquired by Facebook earlier this year. Under the terms of the provision, Facebook can store “Instagram’s server logs and administrative records in a way that is more efficient than maintaining totally separate storage systems.” Facebook is also clarifying its language surrounding affiliates, as well.
As long as Facebook continues to exist in its current form, these debates over its privacy rules will almost certainly continue to crop up on a semi-regular basis. The challenge for Facebook executives is how to best maintain that delicate dance between their need for revenue, advertising firms’ desire for effective marketing campaigns, and users’ rights to privacy. They run a corporation—but at moments, it also starts to resemble a messy democracy.