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Privacy groups ask Facebook to back off privacy changes

Ian Paul | Nov. 28, 2012
Two consumer interest groups are asking Facebook to withdraw its proposed changes that would remove the ability for users to vote on modifications to Facebook's data usage and privacy policies.

Two consumer interest groups are asking Facebook to withdraw its proposed changes that would, among other issues, remove the ability for users to vote on modifications to Facebook's data usage and privacy policies. The company also wants to change how you filter incoming messages on Facebook, and Facebook wants to freely share user data between companies it owns, such as Instagram.

The Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center said in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the planned changes "raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate [Facebook's] previous commitments to users about site governance." The social network may have been trying to slip the changes under the radar, announcing them the day before Thanksgiving.

Do you really want the vote?

Facebook was lauded for its decision in 2009 to introduce site governance voting, but the right to vote on policy changes has been largely ignored by the majority of Facebook's members. The most recent vote was in June when 0.1 percent of Facebook's then more than 900 million users bothered to vote on a set of proposed privacy policy changes.

Among those who voted, only 13 percent supported Facebook's new privacy policy. Despite that largely negative reaction, the company only considers a user vote binding if 30 percent of the social network's users participate, a bar the vote fell far short of achieving. "A very very small minority of people that use Facebook voted, which was pretty disappointing from our point of view," Facebook spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin told IDG News in June. "We're realizing that this is a process that doesn't work." It's not clear whether Facebook is particularly proactive in encouraging users to participate in the voting process whenever proposed changes arise.

The Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center say that even though Facebook's voting requirements set an "unreasonably high participation threshold" at least the right to vote was in place. Dumping the vote "raises questions about Facebook's willingness to take seriously the participation of Facebook users," the two groups said. If Facebook does dump the vote it would be particularly damaging for the privacy information center; the group was instrumental in getting Facebook to reverse a set of privacy changes in 2009 that resulted in Facebook instituting the site governance vote for users.

Filtering Facebook's message

Facebook also wants to remove the "Who can send you Facebook messages?" control that lets you decide who can contact you on Facebook. The setting is currently buried in your privacy settings under "How You Connect." The messages setting would be replaced by what Facebook calls "filters for managing incoming messages." The Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center are concerned that changes to Facebook Messages could result in users receiving more spam, a popular method of attack for malware on Facebook. It's not clear whether Facebook's new messaging filters would be part of the newly revamped Facebook Messages window or if the changes would be part of your privacy settings.

 

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