Under legal pressure, Facebook clarifies how it uses your data

The clarifications come in response to a recent court ruling

Facebook wants to be clear: It can use the names, profile pictures and other data of its members to deliver ads on the site.

On Thursday, the site announced a wide range of proposed updates to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, two key documents that explain how the social network collects and uses people's data. The update includes a revised explanation of how things like people's names, profile pictures and content may be used in connection with ads or commercial content.

With the updates, Facebook wants to make its policies more clear. And specifically, to make it clear "that you are granting Facebook permission for this [commercial] use when you use our services," said Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, policy, on the company's website.

"We hope this clarification helps you understand how we use your information in this way," she said.

The site will be gathering feedback over the next seven days on the proposed updates. Facebook, with more than 1 billion members, knows that its policies can trigger volatile reactions. "We will carefully consider feedback before adopting any changes," the company said.

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Facebook is not issuing the clarifications purely for altruistic reasons. On Monday a U.S. judge approved a US$20 million fund for Facebook to settle a class-action lawsuit against the site's "sponsored stories" advertising program, which pairs some Facebook members' information with commercial content to deliver ads to people on the site.

Plaintiffs had claimed that their names and likenesses, such as their profile photos, were being misappropriated to promote advertisers' products and services.

As part of the ruling, Facebook was ordered to change its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to give users better information about, and control over, how their data is used in connection with sponsored stories.

In its revised Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook says that by joining the site, "you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you."

If users have selected a specific audience for their content or information, Facebook will respect that choice, the company said.

Facebook also expects its users to understand that the company may not always identify paid services and communications as such, according to the document.

How children's data is used in connection with ads was one of the major issues in Monday's court ruling. In the revised document, Facebook hopes to circumvent future issues around minors by stating that, "If you are under the age of 18, or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section on your behalf."

Thursday's changes also include some information to clarify that Facebook's apps may be updated from time to time, and that although the site is free, users are still responsible for access fees like data charges and text messages.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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