Lack Of Participation Makes Facebook Privacy Policy Vote Non-Binding
June 10, 2012

Lack Of Participation Makes Facebook Privacy Policy Vote Non-Binding

A seven-day voting period regarding whether Facebook should adopt a new privacy and user rights policy or continue using the existing one has come and gone, and despite an overwhelming percentage of voters choosing the current regulations, the revised code will be implemented by the popular social network.

The reason, explains Casey Johnston of Ars Technica, is that a minimum of 270 million individuals, or 30% of all Facebook members, needed to cast their vote in order for it the results to be binding.

Only 342,632 (or approximately 0.038% of the website's 900 million plus user base) did so, with slightly less than 300,000 voting against the new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) and Data Use Policy and 45,000 voting against it, she added. As such, Facebook will only consider the results "in an advisory manner as it mulls a change over its new policies," Johnston said.

"The vote was triggered because a critical mass of people had commented on the proposed policies -- seven times the amount needed, in fact," CNET's Elinor Mills wrote on Friday. "While there were enough people to prompt a vote, not enough people turned out to officially weigh in“¦ Which raises the question of how many of the 900 million users actually knew there was even a vote."

According to Mills, the only way that Facebook users could have learned about the vote "is if they had liked the Site Governance page and therefore seen updates from that page; if one of their friends voted and clicked a box to send an update to their profile's news feed; or if they happened to notice a promo for the vote that was mixed in with the ads on the right side of the page“¦ I never saw a promo, but that's because I ignore the small ads and other items on the far right. I suspect most people do."

Users who are bent out of shape over Facebook's apparent attempt to obscure the voting procedure, as well as the brief one-week voting window itself, may not be the social network's only problem stemming from the privacy change controversy, though, according to Christina DesMarais of PCWorld. She wrote Saturday the company could be giving itself "an image problem it doesn't need" by publicly declaring that it was "pretty disappointing" that so few members took the time to vote.

"Obviously Facebook wants to enact the changes it proposed -- that's a given. But to publicly call voter turnout 'disappointing' when it didn't adequately promote the vote in the first place seems disingenuous," DesMarais said.

"To be fair, there was plenty of media attention about the vote, including instructions on where to find the voting page and how to log your vote“¦ But Facebook, itself, wasn't terribly visible about the vote, despite its assertion that it did put forth a good effort to get people to vote on its policies and supposedly served nearly a billion impressions to users about it," she added. "The backlash from users is not something Facebook would want to deal with following its IPO flop and growing questions about its growth expectations."

The voting controversy comes during a week in which another Facebook-centered privacy-related caught people's attention -- a hoax which has been fooling people into posting a notice to their social media account in order to protect their rights.

According to the Telegraph, the viral message claims, "Facebook is now a publicly traded entity“¦ Unless you state otherwise, anyone can infringe on your right to privacy once you post to this site. It is recommended that you and other members post a similar notice as this, or you may copy and paste this version."

The hoax also claimed that users who do not post the notice to their profile pages could be monitored by the United States government. The UK newspaper spoke to security experts who confirmed that the message would have no legal effect on how either Facebook or government entities are allowed to use (or prohibited from using) information posted on the popular social media website.

"Unfortunately taking control of your online identity is not as simple as making a declaration on your Facebook wall," said Chester Wisniewski of the British online security firm Sophos told the Telegraph. "If you are uncomfortable with Facebook monetizing your content or making your content available to the US government you either need to avoid posting the content to Facebook, or more carefully control your privacy settings."