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Facebook: Actually, here's how we're using your data for ads

In proposed terms of service, the social network illustrates how member data is used as a part of Sponsored Stories -- because a court ordered it to do so.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
4 min read

Facebook is making changes to the two key documents that govern its service in part to settle a two-year legal battle around its practice of using member data in advertisements.

The social network is proposing updates, some of which have been court-ordered, to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy legal documents to better inform members on how their data is used for advertising purposes, and provide additional clarity on its data collection practices.

Facebook is putting the changes up for review -- but not a vote -- and will collect feedback over the next seven days.

When it comes to advertising, Facebook hasn't changed its ways, but is instead trying to explain its practices and resolve for some previous ambiguity that upset some people so much that they sued the social network. In 2011, Facebook was accused of violating users' right to privacy by publicizing their "likes" in advertisements without asking them or compensating them. The case was finally settled on Monday.

"There is a court settlement dealing with Sponsored Stories. This settlement required us to provide additional language around the use of people's information for Sponsored Stories," Erin Egan, Facebook chief privacy officer, told CNET. "So we added an example to illustrate to people what we mean when we use their information as part of a Sponsored Story, and provided more detail around that."

As a result, Facebook's proposed Statement of Rights section on advertisements now reads:

You give us permission to use your name, and profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that 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 you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

If you are under the age of eighteen (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 (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf. The last bit protects Facebook in the advent that kids appear in ads, which was one of the sticking points of the suit.

The new advertising section in the revised data policy, meanwhile, is even more extensive and includes examples of how member data can be used along ads. Part of the rewritten section reads:

In addition to delivering relevant ads, Facebook sometimes pairs ads with social context, meaning stories about social actions that you or your friends have taken. For example, an ad for a sushi restaurant's Facebook Page may be paired with a News Feed story that one of your friends likes that Page.
"The goal, really, here is to make sure that we are as clear about our advertising practices as possible," Egan said. The company, while amending its policies for the settlement, decided that it could be clearer on some of its others terms, she said.

Should you read the rest of the proposed terms of service, you'll find additional language changes meant to clarify what you can expect or not expect from your social-networking experience. The company, for instance, now spells out that if you want a third-party application you've connected to Facebook to delete your data, you'll have to go to the app-maker to make the request (read: Facebook isn't responsible). Facebook also explains that users are responsible for carrier data charges when using Facebook from their mobile devices.

In addition, in the data policy, the social network now makes clear that it receives data on the type of device a person is using to run Facebook, and includes more detail on the types of data, such as mobile phone number or operating system, it receives from devices members use to install Facebook apps or access the social network.

One of the few actual policy changes has to do with tag suggestions, a feature Facebook uses to suggest people tags to members who upload photos. The social network is informing members that their profile photos will be used in the process for making suggestions. Members can, as always, opt out of tag suggestions, and the feature remains unavailable in Europe.

Altogether, the terms-of-service changes don't appear to introduce any new policies or practices that should alarm users, but that's not to say the social network won't experience a backlash, as is so often the case with any widespread change.

"Do we anticipate there to be some huge uproar? We hope not," Egan said. "But sometimes with Facebook and the nature of Facebook...," she added, trailing off into the obvious conclusion that it's hard to please 1.15 billion members and vocal critics.

Update, 9:08 a.m. PT: Facebook said the amended documents will be available for public review and comment later Thursday morning.