The founder of Europe vs. Facebook, Max Schrems, has forced Facebook to put proposed policy changes up for a vote to all of its users by motivating his privacy group to flood Facebook’s Site Governance page with messages. Facebook received many more than 7,000 comments needed to trigger a vote. Europe vs. Facebook is demanding sweeping changes to Facebook’s product rather than the small policy changes in the proposal.
The one-week voting period opened on a set of a relatively benign changes and Facebook will notify users by web and mobile. If over 30% of Facebook’s active users (roughly 230 million people), voted for the changes that will go into effect, and if they vote against them they’ll be scrapped. Otherwise Facebook will take the changes “under advisement”. Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan stated that Facebook will consider changing its site governance voting system to discourage votes being triggered by low-quality comments and adapt to the growing size of Facebook’s user base.
Egan follows “I really don’t think any of our changes were controversial. [Max Schrems] is interested in us changing our product, but these revisions are about our policy. We can’t please everyone. We did reach the threshold because a viral meme was created [by Schrems asking users to blindly paste in the comment "I oppose the changes and want a vote about the demands on www.our-policy.org"], and unfortunately the result is a vote.” When the feedback period ended on May 18th, we noticed over 42,000 comments, most without any actual qualitative feedback had been filed and a vote was inevitable.”
In all of Facebook’s history this is only the second governance vote. The voting system was set up in 2009 when it had 200 million users, so the 7,000 comment threshold and the 30% required to make a vote binding seemed more appropriate for the total amount of users. Facebook is now considering upping the comment threshold, or even possibly doing away with the voting procedure.
Egan stated “Max is a user of ours and we appreciate his feedback, but we worry the voting threshold number may be incentivizing quantity over quality”. A new system would seek to get users actually reviewing the changes themselves and giving their own opinion, rather than being used as pawns by privacy activists.
The demands include “We want Facebook to implement an ‘Opt-In’ instead of an “Opt-Out” system for all data use and all features” and “We want Facebook to limit the use of our data for advertisement“. These are much grander changes that would seriously hamper Facebook’s ability to launch new features and make money, and are unlikely to be adopted. There’s simply no way all 900 million+ users would be willing to constantly approve every little change Facebook makes.
By creating the “I oppose the changes” meme, Europe Vs. Facebook showed it would rather obstruct progress, even progress it had lobbied for, than provide real constructive criticism. While its allegiance to strict privacy could be viewed as admirable, its tampering with the commenting system cannot.
It’s still important to note that despite flaws in the system, Facebook offers its users much, much more control of site governance that any other major website. When asked if it would like to see other sites adopt a policy feedback system, Schnitt said “Absolutely, we think users should demand this kind of thing, and they deserve it too.” When asked if Twitter and Google+ were giving people enough control, Schnitt replied “That’s for their users to decide.”
Facebook’s users will have until June 8th to vote on the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy changes. Users will be directed to the voting page from ads in the sidebar of Facebook’s website, and a banner at the top of its mobile interfaces. The most significant changes users will be voting on are:
A clarification regarding Facebook’s existing policy that it may use your data to serve you ads outside of Facebook.com while you’re on other websites
A more detailed explanation of how in some cases Facebook will “retain [your] data as long as necessary to provide you services” whether that’s less or more time