You decide Facebook’s privacy policy – here’s how to vote

Last month, Facebook proposed changes to its privacy policy (officially called a “Data Use Policy” now).  The changes cover things like cookies, storing your data, and advertising.  Facebook has a rule that if at least 7,000 people comment on a proposed policy change, they have to hold a vote:  if more than 30% of Facebook users veto the changes, Facebook can’t make them.  Because over 42,000 people commented on Facebook’s proposed revisions, Facebook has put them to a public vote from today until June 8th.

There are areas of privacy concern in both policy versions–after all, Facebook wouldn’t be worth billions without your personal data–but now you can pick whether you want to keep the current one or adopt the new one.

Here’s how you can place your vote in only a few minutes.  Because of the privacy issues we’ve identified, we recommend that you place your vote in favor of the existing documents.  We list our privacy red flags underneath the voting steps below. 

1.  Log into Facebook and go to their Site Governance page at https://www.facebook.com/fbsitegovernance.

2.  Click on the “Site Governance Vote” tab at the top of the page (it’s under the “Like” button).  Alternatively, follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/fbsitegovernance/app_130362963766777

3.  The Facebook Site Governance Vote page will open.  Click the green “Enter Voting” button.

4.  A page called “Voting Information” will open.  Click the green “Continue” button.

5.  You’ve reached the voting page.  You’ll be asked, “Which documents should govern the Facebook site?”  Check the radio button next to “Existing Documents,” then hit the green “Submit Vote” button.

We wrote this post about an hour after the vote was posted, and only 478 people had voted.  “Proposed Documents” (i.e., the bad choice) was leading by a few dozen votes, so there’s still an entire week to get the word out and make your vote count!  Note that we need a lot of votes:  as Facebook states in its current policy, “if more than 30% of all active registered users vote, the results will be binding. If turnout is less than 30%, the vote will be advisory.”  If Facebook has about 901 million members, that means we need around 270 million votes.  It seems unlikely, but we’re hopeful.

Results as of 1:20 PM EDT on June 1st.

Feel free to compare the policies yourself (here’s the current one, and here’s the proposed new one), but for those of you without several hours to kill, we scoured them ourselves and identified the 3 biggest privacy red flags in the new revisions:

1.  Laying the groundwork for launching an advertising network (think Facebook ads off of Facebook)

Facebook may launch its own ad network to compete with Google’s, so you’ll start seeing Facebook-style ads across the web that use your Facebook info to target you based on your interests.  Facebook has long been able to track both members and non-members off of Facebook through its Social Plugins, including its Like and Connect buttons.  Even if you never click these buttons, they can tell Facebook which sites you’re visiting, what you’re clicking, your IP address, and more.  If Facebook launches an ad network, it will have a much more noticeable presence across the Internet.

Facebook’s proposed revision contains language that supports this ad network prediction.  Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan echoed this in a live Q&A video session a few weeks ago, stating, “We may serve you an ad off Facebook.  We have nothing to announce yet, but there was some language in the data use policy that indicated that we may show an ad with a social context or any kind of ad without a social context.”

2.  Making it easier for people to search for you and find you on Facebook

People will be able to find you through expanded search terms such as email address, phone number, and other info. The language that concerns us for privacy is “even if you have not shared your contact information with them on Facbook.” Here’s an example:  you dial a wrong number; the person you accidentally called can type in your number on Facebook, hit “search,” and voila:  there’s your profile.  We take this provision to mean is any person can find you on Facebook if they have other pieces of your information, like your email or phone number.

3.  Holding onto your data for (potentially) a longer time

Although the current policy limits data retention to 180 days, the proposed one will “retain [your] data as long as necessary to provide you services,” which may be longer than 180 days.


What do you think about your privacy on Facebook?  Do you think they’ve got your best interests in mind when they change their terms?




31 comments shared on this article:

  • Tammy Barker says:

    leave our stuff private…If i want someone to know my phone number or address I will give it to them…

  • This blog is fantastic. That’s not really a really huge statement, but its all I could come up with after reading this. You know so much about this subject.

  • nonya says:

    OCCUPY PRIVACY

  • nonya says:

    Keep my info private!

  • nonya says:

    Occupy freedom of speech and freedom of the press!

    Question: because Facebook often asks to publish, doesn’t that qualify both Facebook and My posts as PRESS ?

    • Sarah Downey says:

      That’s an interesting question. Your Facebook posts are more in the category of blogging than pure journalism/press, but there’s not a lot of difference between the two. Still, the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of speech and of the press applies to government censorship and action, and because Facebook is a private company, it’s mostly exempt.

  • ROGER says:

    EVER HEARD OF “DATA-MINING”..WHEN YOU SWIPE ANY CARD AT ANY BUSINESS, CLICK TO BUY ON THE INTERNET, SPEAK-OUT/UPLOAD PHOTOS ON SOCIAL-NETWORKS? BIG BROTHER IS RIGHT BEHIND YOUR SCREEN FOR DECADES; SMILE.. AND THINK TWICE ABOUT FROWNING! I CHOSE TO NOT BE “ZUCKED-UP”; AND SPENT ALOT OF TIME DELETING MY (FB) ACCOUNT, AND ‘DEACTIVATING’. THE MORE YOU SECURE YOUR ‘INFORMATION’; THE BETTER YOUR CHANCES OF HAVING A ‘REAL LIFE’ IN “REALITY” (THAT IS A GOOD THING)…THAN LOSING YOUR ‘WHOLE LIFE’ IN A ‘VIRTUAL’ (DEFINITION:BEING SO IN ESSENCE OR EFFECT, BUT NOT IN FORM OR FACT) REALITY. YOUR CHOICE; I HOPE YOU MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE! LOVE YOU ALL!

    • Sarah Downey says:

      Yep, the distinction between your virtual/digital life and your real/offline life is getting smaller. We like the idea of having both, but only if users have control over their info (and thus their image).

  • Sue says:

    Make the privacy info change, I will simply cancel my site, change my email address and phone number so all the info you have is useless. I don’t like being strong armed. It feels like that is what you are doing. So sell my info. It will be completely useless. I get the need to make money, BUT HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY NEED?

  • Salvador says:

    Privacy mean no anybody can know who are you. Friends or relatives to whom I personally give them expressed authorization have access to my site only.

  • JJ says:

    They should leave it. Now has everyone gone and voted? I have. ;)

  • Dennis W says:

    270 million votes needed… only just under 280 thousand…

  • The numbers are bogus and this is a rigged game. Facebook doesn’t have 900 million unique users and they know it. Many of the people I know have multiple accounts or have old accounts they no longer use nor have access to. I would be surprised if FB has 270 million REAL individual users.

    The best we can hope for is a public relations nightmare for FB when 1 million+ people vote against the changes and they don’t even bat an eye.

    • Sarah Downey says:

      Well, they say “ACTIVE registered users,” whatever that means. I’d hope they had some mechanism for determining when a user is actually on Facebook and hasn’t merely signed up for an account they never use. But of course, the system is entirely under Facebook’s control, and there’s no way to verify if it’s working.

  • Dave says:

    OUTCOME:

    87% of those voting voted AGAINST this FaceBook change. In the real world, there is such a thing as a “representative sample.”

    However, despite this overwhelming vote, FaceBook has decided to ignore the voice of the people and proceed with their changes.

    You have just been screwed by FaceBook.

    If you don’t like it, SHOUT about it, and don’t stop shouting! Or, you’ll end up with the sheep, and can expect it to get worse and worse.

  • marcus jones says:

    its very interesting and damning, that facebook have removed the final vote graph from the voting page, the final vote is quite embarrassing for them i guess

    • Sarah Downey says:

      Yeah, despite not having a huge turnout (because they basically hid the vote), 87% of people who DID weigh in didn’t want the new policy. Too bad they implemented it anyway :/

  • John says:

    I’d like to know why you won’t let me block facebook on certain sites like hulu.com.

    • Sarah Downey says:

      You mean with Do Not Track Plus? If Facebook isn’t blocked by default on a certain site, that’s because we’ve found that the site won’t run without it. In these specific cases, we enable Facebook to avoid ruining your site experience. However, you can choose to block Facebook there regardless of our suggested settings by opening the “social networks” tab in DNT+. You can also email us at support at abine dot com with more questions!

  • John says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I was actually speaking of PrivacySuite. Facebook is unblocked by default on Hulu.com, and nothing I do will allow me to block it. I can not select it to be blocked. Even when I go into the Privacy Info tab, it will not let me block it.

    I’ve had similar experiences with google analytics on certain sites.

    Now, on DNT+ (which I have on Safari), it is unblocked by default on Hulu.com and yes, I can block it. The site still works perfectly fine. Maybe that’s because I do not now, nor have I ever used facebook for anything. Maybe facebook won’t work properly on hulu if it’s blocked on that site, but Hulu does.

    • Sarah Downey says:

      That’s a bug we’re aware of with PrivacySuite. I may have a fix for you: download the newest version of PrivacySuite from Mozilla’s add-on store (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/privacysuite/), and then when you’re on Hulu.com, click on PrivacySuite’s icon , then hit “Old UI” at the bottom-right corner. You’ll see that the design of PrivacySuite will switch from dark blue to gray. Then try blocking Facebook; it should stick this time. However, please let us know if you’re still having this problem. Simply email support at abine dot com and say that you’ve been talking to Sarah on the blog. Thanks for using PrivacySuite; we appreciate it!

  • John says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately, no, it’s not fixed.
    At the time you posted this, .746 was the latest version. I was already running that so tried switching to the Old UI as you suggested. It didn’t make a difference.

    I just installed .747 – still no difference.

    Against my better judgement, I installed FF 12 (don’t get me started on what a stupid idea their ‘rapid development’ process is), and still no change to the behavior.

    Go to Hulu.com and Facebook can’t be blocked.

    Go to Tumblr.com and Google Analytics can be blocked, but comes right back when you reload the page. Also, if you’re on the new UI you can reblock it, but on the old UI after you’ve blocked it once it seems to act like Facebook on Hulu where clicking on it does absolutely nothing.

    I’ve also selected the ‘block all’ and ‘block all everywhere’ options with no success.

    You acknowledge it’s a bug, not a feature, so knowing that already makes me feel better. While this is being worked on, I know that your tool is blocking everything else, so thank you for that!

    • Sarah Downey says:

      Innnnteresting. I passed your report on to the person in charge of our QA. I’ll let you know what he says. I’m glad that everything else is being blocked, though!



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