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Give Us Comments, Not Votes, Says Facebook

Give Us Comments, Not Votes, Says Facebook

Facebook wants to dump its current system of letting users vote on policy changes, arguing that it can be gamed by activists. Instead, it just wants to consider users' feedback. Privacy advocates don't like that idea, but users pretty much don't care. So far, fewer than 300,000 votes have been cast -- the vast majority to keep the voting system -- but 300 million or so are needed to make a vote binding.

By Erika Morphy
12/05/12 9:14 AM PT

Facebook has elaborated on the changes it wants to make to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This new explanation is in response to the user feedback it has received thus far on a proposal it made late last month.

The crux of its proposed change is to scrap its user voting system and replace it with high-quality feedback instead. Facebook said it wants to shift its policy in order to prevent votes from being triggered by copying and pasting comments -- a tactic that's been employed by privacy activists.

The current system favors the quantity of comments over their quality, Facebook argued. For example, if a proposed change gets 7,000 comments, Facebook users get to vote on the change. If 30 percent of all Facebook users vote, the decision is binding.

Feedback on the Feedback

What Facebook released this week is a batch of explanatory comments in response to the user comments on its initial Thanksgiving week proposal.

Some users "were concerned that by ending the vote mechanism, you were losing your ability to shape the policies that govern Facebook," it said. "To be clear, our goal in modifying our site governance process is to make sure that we receive feedback from you in the best, most productive way possible so that we can be responsive to your input."

And by the Way...

Facebook also proposed another change to its privacy polices -- one that hasn't drawn as much attention as its suggested voting change: It wants to start sharing user data with its existing or future affiliates, such as Instagram.

In its updated explanation, Facebook calls the proposed change "standard in the industry," promoting the "efficient and effective use of the services Facebook and its affiliates provide."

Privacy Advocates React

Privacy advocates are less than pleased with the data-sharing proposal.

"What they are proposing is very likely in violation of the consent degree they signed over privacy," John M. Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, told the E-Commerce Times.

"This time last year, Facebook inked a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission settling charges that it violated users' privacy," he said.

Among other things, the settlement requires Facebook to get consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data. It also requires that Facebook obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Facebook's proposal to scrap its current voting system also drew fire.

"Facebook has made a big deal of saying privacy policy changes will be voted on," Simpson said. "Now that they want to change that -- to me it indicates its earlier stance was just window dressing."

The Voting System's Dismal Reality

The voting system Facebook has in place is one of its few consumer-friendly bright spots, observed Cameron Yuill, CEO and founder of Adgent Digital.

"It gives users the opportunity to air opinions and apparently affect Facebook policy," he told the E-Commerce Times.

In reality, though, it doesn't give consumers the voice that it purports to, Yuill continued. "Inevitably, the numbers of votes fail to reach the required threshold of one-third of active Facebook users. That is, 300-plus million people must vote for a change for Facebook to make the change."

Facebook users have until 3 p.m. ET on Dec. 10 to vote on the proposed changes. Votes can be cast at the Facebook Governance Vote page.

As of Wednesday morning, 219, 715 people have voted to keep the existing documents and 34,821 have voted to use the proposed documents.

Facebook did not respond to our request for further details.


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