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November 22, 2012

Facebook’s Proposed Policy Changes Could Spark Privacy Concerns

Facebook is proposing changes sure to make privacy advocates and regulators sit up and take notice.

The social media site hopes to combine user data with that of Instagram as well as relax restrictions on e-mails between its members.

The company has said it may share information with other businesses or Facebook affiliates in a bid to “help provide, understand, and improve our services and their own services,” according to its proposed data use policy.

Photo-sharing service Instagram falls under the affiliates category — Facebook purchased it in October for $715 million.

If the proposed changes become reality, Facebook would be able to construct integrated user profiles that include people’s personal data from its site and from Instagram, according to a Reuters report.

The move would be comparable to that taken by Google when the search engine said it would unite users’ personal information from its Web services — search, e-mail, Google+ — to better tailor the experience to the user.

Privacy activists and watchdogs called the move an invasion of privacy.

The changes don’t end there. Facebook also wants to junk its guidelines that enable its members to vote on changes it makes to its data use policy.

Facebook vice-president for communications, public policy and marketing Elliot Schrage said the social networking site wants to end the “voting component of the process in favor of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement.”

“We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period,” he wrote in a blog. “In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made. However, we found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality.”

Originally, Facebook allowed users to vote on proposed changes. If there were more than 7,000 comments and the proposed changes were voted on by at least 30 percent of Facebook’s active users, the change would go into effect. However, with about 1 billion users, getting 30 percent to vote would be virtually impossible.

Under the new system, Facebook is allowing users to comment on or like the proposed changes.

“We will continue to post significant changes to our data use policy and SRR and provide a seven-day period for review and comment,” Schrage said. “As always, we will carefully consider your feedback before adopting any changes. We will also provide additional notification mechanisms, including e-mail, for informing you of those changes.”

Schrage’s blog post detailed some of the proposed changes in the updated data use policy. They include:

• New tools for managing Facebook messages – replacing the “Who can send you Facebook messages” setting with new filters for managing incoming messages.

• Changes to how Facebook refers to certain products, like instant personalization.

• Reminders about what’s visible to other people on Facebook. For instance, when you hide things from your timeline, those posts are visible elsewhere, like in news feed, on other people’s timelines, or in search results.

• Tips on managing your timeline. For example, you can use tools on your timeline or activity log to delete your own posts, or you can ask someone else to delete a post in which you’re tagged.

Facebook users have until 9 a.m. on Nov. 28 to comment on the proposed changes here.