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December 6, 2012

Facebook Opens the Polls, Gives Users Chance to Vote on Policy Changes

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Facebook is asking its one billion users this week to cast a vote on its proposed policy changes.

The vote gives members their only chance to weigh in on how Facebook handles user data as well as on the social network’s plan to do away with its custom of allowing users to vote on policy changes. The site also has plans to restrict users’ ability to prevent unwanted messages and combine personal information from Facebook with Instagram.

Users have until noon on Dec. 10 to voice their opinions.

“Since announcing proposed updates to both our data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities, we’ve heard from many of you through our comment process,” wrote Facebook vice-president of public policy and marketing Elliot Schrage. “We are grateful that you took the time to share your thoughts. This feedback allows us to respond to your questions and make substantive changes to our proposals before they are implemented.”

Schrage said if more than 30 percent of all active registered users vote, the results will be binding. If turnout is less than 30 percent, the vote will only be advisory.

Click here to cast a ballot.

The proposed changes, which Facebook aired late last month, caused an outcry among users and privacy watchdogs alike.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) said the pending revisions, announced Nov. 21, “will impact the privacy of users and their ability to participate in site governance.”

Facebook’s proposal of allowing users to comment or like the proposed changes instead of voting is simply not good enough, the EPIC and CDD have said.

“Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes,” the groups wrote in a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

A combination of user feedback and consulting with regulators, has caused Facebook to change the language to sections of its policy proposals, particularly the parts about what the social media site plans to do with data collected from Instagram and what it shares with its affiliates.

Schrage highlighted the main points in a blog post:

  • Site Governance Process. Many of you agreed that Facebook has outgrown the current system, which is no longer the most effective way to help people engage in our site governance process. Many supported our goal of facilitating direct discussions with you – such as through the “Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer” feature. 

Some of you were concerned that by ending the vote mechanism, you were losing your ability to shape the policies that govern Facebook. 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. Many of you provided us with ideas on how we could continue to meet that goal. You pointed out that our decision to update the process gives us an opportunity to innovate and search for new and better ways to enhance participation. We agree and will incorporate your suggestions into creating new tools that enhance communication on Facebook about privacy and governance. 

  • Affiliates. Some of you asked us to clarify new language that we proposed, which explains that we share information with our family of companies. This provision is standard in the industry and promotes the efficient and effective use of the services Facebook and its affiliates provide – for example, permitting information to be shared with our affiliates allows our users in the United States (whose services are provided by Facebook Inc.) to interact with our users in Europe (whose services are provided by Facebook Ireland Ltd.). 

Additionally, as many people know, we recently acquired Instagram. This provision covers Instagram and allows us to store Instagram’s server logs and administrative records in a way that is more efficient than maintaining totally separate storage systems. We’ve added additional language to this proposal to clarify that the sharing of information among our affiliates is and will be done in compliance with all applicable laws, and where additional consent of our users is required, we will obtain it. 

  • Ownership of your content. A number of the comments suggested that we were changing ownership of your content on Facebook. We’re not. This is not true and has never been the case. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our SRR. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been. We’re not proposing to change this key aspect of how Facebook works.
  • Privacy controls.  In our latest set of updates, we proposed to add language reminding you of the difference between privacy settings (which let you decide who can see what you post anywhere on Facebook) and timeline visibility preferences (which impact how things show up on your timeline but don’t impact other parts of Facebook, like news feed, relationship pages, or search results). Some people asked if this means we’re removing controls you currently have over who can see the things you post. We are not. We simply added this language to further explain how these privacy settings and timeline preferences work. In response to your feedback, however, we’re adding additional language to remind you that you can delete things you post or change the audience at any time.
  • Advertising policies. We’ve always been clear that we are able to provide free services by showing you ads that are relevant to your interests, and we use your posts – including pages you like– to help show these ads. We proposed new language to make it clearer that those likes and posts include topics like religion or political views. This language does not mean that we are changing our Advertising Guidelines, which prohibit advertisers from running ads that assert or imply sensitive personal characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. We’ve added additional language, including a link to our guidelines, to this proposal to make that clearer.

 

The vote was no doubt spurred by the 20,103 people who commented in English on Schrage’s original blog.

Facebook received roughly 89,000 comments in total during the seven-day period that ended Nov. 28.

For more information on Facebook Privacy, see EPIC: Facebook.

 

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