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Facebook’s Promise of Control and Transparency Will Soon Extend to Its Terms of Service

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No terms or regulations are changing, but clarity is coming to four key areas of this governing document.

Terms of service are notorious for their dense, legal language, and countless internet users find themselves agreeing to unknown or misunderstood clauses as a result. But by the end of July, Facebook hopes its users won’t feel that way. A clearer, more concise set of terms is on the way—while the rules are nothing new, their language and goals will be.

“People should have clear, simple explanations of how online services work and use personal information,” Facebook VP and Associate General Counsel Anna Benckert said as she opened her company blog detailing the changes. She went on, “announcing updates to our Terms of Service to clarify how Facebook makes money and better explain the rights people have when using our services.”

What Prompted the Change?

A representative from Facebook told The Verge that many of the updated language was created in collaboration with, and perhaps prescribed by, European regulators. Many of the same stringent rules that yielded last year’s GDPR are also encouraging companies founded stateside to simplify their terms for users.

Twitter’s terms have already undergone a similar process, reportedly going from a dense 2500 words to a comparatively breezy 600. But it is important to note: no Facebook rules are actually changing in this process. Rather, the end result (available to all users by default on July 31) will explain the existing rules, better.

What Are The Main Candidates for Clarification?

Four sections of importance are being updated to make their details clearer to the consumer:

  • How the company makes money
  • The grounds for content removal and the appeals process for reinstatement
  • Your rights to the content you post to the platform
  • What happens if that content is deleted

While all of these pieces of the proverbial platform puzzle are important, the part getting the most attention is how the company makes money. This question surfaced a number of times during Facebook’s congressional hearings—a clear sign that the process is often genuinely unclear. To relieve that confusion, the new terms “provide more details on how Facebook makes money, including a new introduction that reinforces the fact that people do not have to pay to use Facebook due to the payment it receives from advertisers.”

Dispelling the Rumors Around Data

The terms likely put a fine point on the “payment from advertisers” piece, because there is frequent confusion over if data is sold to advertisers, and even how the company gets the data it has on its users. Accused in recent weeks of audibly eavesdropping on its base, the site has fervently denied these claims—instead touting the sophisticated nature of its AI, algorithms, and additional windows into the larger internet. Said longtime tech insider Phil Lieberman, “the Facebook AI engine can determine intent from textual and visual material you provide […] with intent, they can find products and services that you might be interested in.” USA Today, in its reporting on the question, revealed:

The social network admits it collects the “content, communications, and other information,” including photographs and videos, accounts, hashtags, and groups we are connected to. It notes what posts, videos, and other content we view and even collects our payment information, including credit or debit card number, billing and shipping info.

Given all that, you can decide if it’s actually comforting that they can’t hear you.

In any case, Facebook’s new terms try to calm the anxiety that comes from knowing just how much information they have. “We don’t sell your personal data,” the section on ad targeting reads. Instead, “we allow advertisers to tell us things like their business goal and the kind of audience they want to see their ads (for example, people between the age of 18-35 who like cycling). We then show their ad to people who might be interested.”

Replacing Confusion with Control and Clarity

In closing the announcement, Benckert said, “we’ll keep working on ways to make sure people understand how our business works, how their information is used and how they can control it.” While a combination of impending domestic regulation and compliance with foreign government guidelines might be driving this change, the bottom line is ultimately a favorable one: a better understanding of this massive internet home, the data we provide it, and the complex relationship between the two entities. Those wishing to see these new terms prior to their official adoption can do so here.

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