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Will Facebook let members vote on proposed changes?

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has invited members of his social networking Web site to review and comment on a proposed statement of rights and responsibilities (which will replace the original terms of use) as well as its governing principles (which define members' rights). The move comes in the wake of protests prompted by the changes in the company's terms of use announced earlier this month.

"Before these new proposals go into effect," Zuckerberg wrote on the Facebook blog yesterday, "you'll also have the ability to vote for or against proposed changes." He made it clear, however, that while he's open to suggestions, the company will continue to make its own decisions about new features offered on the site. "While these products must be consistent with the Principles and in compliance with the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities," he wrote, "they will not be subject to the notice and comment or voting requirement."

Zuckerberg in a February 16 blog post pointed out, among other things, that his company would allow departing members to delete their profiles but that Facebook wouldn't be responsible for erasing personal information that former members had already distributed throughout the network. Members balked at this message, claiming that Facebook was trying to retain their information for its own purposes. Zuckerberg went on the defensive in a February 18 blog post and returned the company's terms of service to a previous version, although that version still contains a lot of the language that members oppose, including Facebook's contention that members implicitly give the company "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose."

The three most controversial issues in the proposed statement of rights and responsibilities, based on early feedback, are limits on how (not to mention how long) Facebook uses member info; that the Web site provide fair warning about planned policy changes and that it clearly describe its intentions. More than 1,000 members had commented on the proposed statement of rights and responsibilities as of noon Friday (EST).

Julius Harper of Los Angeles was the first to comment on several sections of the document, asking Facebook to clarify what qualifies as "a reasonable period of time," which is how long it said it would retain info after users delete it or an account is closed. Harper also questioned the language in the policy that gives Facebook the right to "transfer" or "sublicense" permission to use his content to a third party, such as an advertiser.

Facebook promised to let members vote on governance issues if more than 7,000 users comment on a topic. Zuckerberg said the outcome would be binding if more than 30 percent (or 52.5 million) of all 175 million active registered users vote. Harper and several other commenters indicated they felt the promise was hollow given that it's unlikely millions of members would weigh in on any particular issue.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Nikolay Kropachev

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