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Facebook changes data-use policy despite 87% poll opposition

Our secret vote only drew 'unrepresentative' users

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Facebook has ignored a vote "cast" by 297,883 of its members who agreed that the social network shouldn't update its data use policy.

Despite that, the company is amending its rules on the way it slurps data from its users for the purposes of advertising - a move that comes in the wake of the Irish data protection commissioner's privacy inspection of the website at the end of 2011.

That watchdog is the nearest responsible data protection authority outside of the firm's US headquarters, where all the data Facebook collects is stored.

Facebookers triggered a vote on the company's proposed data use policy tweak, after those opposed to the plan pushed passed the 7,000 user comments threshold to force a public online debate on the changes.

But, as detailed in Facebook's "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" (SRR), 30 per cent of the company's 900 million users would need to cast a vote to make the result binding, rather than advisory.

Hence, Facebook is ignoring the ballot and making the changes to its policy.

On Friday, the company's communications and public policy veep Elliot Schrage said:

We strongly believe these updates provide you with more detail and transparency about our data protections and practices. We received a great deal of positive feedback about these changes from our regulators and the many other stakeholders – including privacy and consumer groups – we consulted about these revisions.

Most of the changes clarify rather than fundamentally change our standards. Many of the changes simply reflect recently launched products or conform language between our various policies. More significantly, the changes incorporate recommendations made by our regulators, including the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s Office.

He claimed that Facebook had undertaken a "substantial outreach effort" to inform its users about the planned changes to its policy. But he described the 297,833 people who voted against the proposal as an "unrepresentative percentage of our user community." He said a total of 342,632 people cast a vote on the site.

But the Facebook wonk added that the company planned to review the process to see if it could better "promote" such proposals in the future.

"We made significant efforts to make voting easy and accessible – including translating the documents and voting application into several of the world’s most popular languages and providing extensive notice through users’ news feeds and desktop and mobile advertisements," Schrage added.

He signed off by saying: "Don't forget to like the Facebook Site Governance Page to be notified of future proposed changes to the SRR and Data Use Policy."

That page currently has 2.2 million "likes" - a minuscule proportion of Facebook's worldwide userbase.

Users of the network were quick to criticise Facebook for failing to adequately inform its users.

One sniped at the bottom of Facebook's blog post announcing the conclusion of the vote:

Couldn't your 'substantial outreach effort' have included something as simple as a message that showed up on each and every Facebook user's page????

Austrian law student Max Schrems - the man behind the Europe-v-Facebook campaign - whose complaints prompted the Irish DP commission to inspect Mark Zuckerberg's company's data handling abilities, said earlier this month that it was highly unlikely the online turnout would reach the required 30 per cent mark.

He has been pushing for Facebook to make all its data collection and advertising an opt-in feature for its users. ®

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