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December 12, 2012

The Vote Is In: Facebook Users Either Don’t Care or Were Unaware of Proposed Privacy Changes

Low voter turnout means Facebook will have its way on changes to its privacy policy.

The vote, which closed at midday Dec. 10, gave 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.

But does the vote signify voter apathy or voter ignorance?

Of the 668,872 people to vote, 87.5 percent (589,141 users) opposed the proposed changes while 79,731 were in support.

According to Facebook’s voting laws, however, 30 percent or 300 million of Facebook’s billion users would have had to cast their ballots against the proposed changes in order to put a stop to them. The 668,872 members to weigh in amounted to just 0.0668 percent of potential voters.

For a site whose bread and butter is social engagement, Facebook did a poor job of promoting the vote. According to many critics, Facebook never expected to receive 300 million votes and did little to ensure it received them.

While Facebook users did receive an e-mail to inform them of the vote, the social network did little else to promote the importance of the poll. There was no mention of the vote on its main Facebook or Twitter accounts or on its sign-in page.

According to Facebook vice-president of public policy and marketing Elliot Schrage, because the turnout was less than 30 percent, the vote will only be advisory.

Critics say this means Facebook is likely to ignore the results of the vote and push ahead with its plans.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) have said the policy changes “will impact the privacy of users and their ability to participate in site governance.”

Facebook’s proposal of allowing users to comment on or like the proposed changes instead of voting is simply not good enough, the groups 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.

EPIC and CDD said 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.”