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User vote on Facebook privacy policies hasn't stemmed criticism

Cameron Scott | June 7, 2012
Facebook is conducting a massive user referendum this week, asking its 900 million-plus users to approve or reject changes to its privacy policy that it first proposed on May 13.

"The notice has been seriously inadequate. As far as I can tell, only members of Site Governance and Facebook and Privacy pages were notified, and the vote is only open for a week," Jacobs said. "The procedure seems to be flawed, unless the goal is to have a vote that doesn't really mean much."

Both European and American privacy groups are advising users to vote against Facebook's proposed changes. Schrems said the changes don't do enough to address the potential illegalities flagged by the Irish data protection commissioner. He took a recent ZDNet interview as evidence that the commissioner's office will demand changes from Facebook even if users approve the new policy.

Gary Davis, deputy commissioner of the Irish data protection office, said in an email that the office was "satisfied with the version presented," but added, "the privacy policy is only one step in the consenting and engagement process with users, and it is recognized that a move towards the seeking of what we would term 'in-line' consent represents a better approach as it seeks a consent from a user for the use of their data at a time when it is relevant."

Schrems' group sees the vote as a way for users to communicate to Facebook that they want more privacy protections.

EPIC's Jacobs said users should vote against the new policies. Voter approval could just entrench practices that don't really safeguard user privacy, because the new policies are more explicit without offering more protection, he said. That would make them harder to fight. According to Jacobs and other privacy advocates, American laws mainly restrict companies from diverging from what they tell users about their practices with personal data.

Pro-privacy software vendor Abine, which points out a privacy advisory email, is also telling users to vote against Facebook's proposed changes. The company has suggested that users may lose privacy protections under the new policy.

Unless opponents pull off a last-minute media coup, it seems unlikely that the vote will amount to more than a measure of user sentiment. With voting scheduled to end at 9 a.m. Pacific time on Friday, the total number of voters as of late Wednesday afternoon had not reached even 10 percent of the number needed to make the vote binding. About 85 percent of voters were rejecting the new documents.

 

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