November 30, 2012
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) say the pending revisions, announced Nov. 21, “will impact the privacy of users and their ability to participate in site governance.”
Facebook has announced an end to users ability to vote as part of the site governance process. The site also plans to restrict users’ ability to prevent unwanted messages and combine personal information from Facebook with Instagram.
EPIC and CDD say not only will the changes give people less control over their inboxes, it is also “likely to increase the amount of spam that users receive.”
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 or like the proposed changes.
The EPIC and CDD say that is simply not good enough.
“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.
If the proposed changes become reality, Facebook would also be able to construct integrated user profiles that include people’s personal data from its site and from Instagram.
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.
The EPIC and CDD say Facebook’s proposed changes will likely elicit the same response as that which Google received.
“Earlier this year, a similar data consolidation by Google prompted objections from privacy organizations, members of Congress, European data protection authorities, and IT managers in the government and private sectors,” the groups wrote in the letter to Zuckerberg.
“Thirty-six state attorneys general sent a letter to Google claiming that the data consolidation ‘invaded consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products’ and that it made ‘more of [consumers’] personal information vulnerable to attack from hackers and identity thieves.”
Facebook is also subject to the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the groups reminded Zuckerberg in the letter.
“The settlement prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information. Additionally, prior to any sharing of users’ personal information with a third party, Facebook must make a clear and prominent disclosure and obtain the affirmative express consent of its users.”
For more information on Facebook Privacy, see EPIC: Facebook.