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Facebook reveals first major user terms update since 2015

Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is updating its terms of service to clarify what it does with user data. The updates are in response to major changes to Facebook's business since the last time it significantly updated the terms in 2015.

Why it matters: Yes, the terms were outdated. But this is also an opportunity for Facebook to play up its commitment to protecting user data after the Cambridge Analytica scandal — although the company says the update isn't connected to the controversy.

"As head of GDPR, I can tell you that we needed to update our terms anyway. This would’ve happened anyway."
— Rob Sherman, Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook

The updates are in response to three major changes:

  1. Data policies around new services and business that Facebook has added since the last time it updated its terms, like Marketplace and Facebook Live.
  2. More information about the way Facebook shares user data within core businesses, like Instagram or Whatsapp. Facebook's different businesses often share data through the Facebook Audience Network, a combined data pool from Instagram, Messenger and Facebook used for ad targeting.
  3. More transparency about the commitments the company makes to data privacy, like the fact that it does not sell data on an individual level or to third-party vendors.

Our thought bubble: There have been a lot of rumors that Facebook is jumping on these updates in response to controversies like Cambridge Analytica and the EU's new sweeping data privacy law, GDPR. This update was coming down the tracks regardless — it's standard business practice to revise terms after building or acquiring new businesses. The updates do, however, underscore the new urgency at Facebook to be transparent about user data and to update policies transparently and regularly.

How it works: The company is rolling out its draft of the new terms today. They will be made available through News Feed posts for existing users and will be displayed for new users upon installing the app. The public will have seven days to comment on the draft terms. Facebook will use that feedback to create a finalized terms of services that it will roll out in the next few weeks.

  • All users will have to eventually agree to the new terms, according to Sherman.

Go deeper: See a full list of the updates.