BBC News

Facebook criticised over decision to stop public privacy votes

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionMark Zuckerberg's Facebook currently allows users to vote on policy changes

Facebook is set to remove the ability for users to vote on changes to its data privacy policy, in a move that has angered campaigners.

In an email to all members, Facebook said it wanted a "more meaningful" way for users to give feedback.

The site has also proposed combining information across its other services, such as photo-sharing app Instagram.

Facebook said a vote into the changes could take place, but more than 300m users would need to participate.

Under the site's rules, votes have an effect only if 30% of the user base has taken part. The site recently announced its one billionth sign-up.

A campaign opposing the changes and calling for more transparency has been launched.

The website is urging users to comment on the announcement in order to trigger a user vote on Facebook's plans.

Under current rules, if there are 7,000 comments on an issue it will be voted upon. At the time of writing, 3,000 members had commented.


In explaining the changes, Facebook said it was looking for ways to more "effectively engage" with its users over changes to the network.

"That commitment guided our decision in 2009 to launch an unprecedented process for user feedback," wrote Elliot Schrage, a vice-president of communications.

"When we held our second global site governance vote in June, we indicated that we would review our site governance process in light of the growth of both our community - to over one billion users - and our company, which is now publicly traded and accountable to regulators around the world."

Mr Schrage said the review of the procedure highlighted issues which required a restructuring of the feedback process.

"We found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivised the quantity of comments over their quality.

"Therefore, we're proposing to end the voting component of the process in favour of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement."

Data merge

The new proposals also outlined details of Facebook's plans to combine information across various services it owns.

This could potentially include Instagram, the photo-sharing app which the social network acquired for £440m ($700m) earlier this year. As well as a vast library of user-uploaded photographs, Instagram also holds location data on its users - a highly valuable resource.

The Reuters news agency has speculated that Facebook intended to unify user data profiles in a way similar to Google's controversial policy changes which took place earlier this year.

The move made it easier for Google to serve targeted advertising to its users.

The search giant was heavily criticised by EU data regulators, and told that it must do more to explain to users how their information was being used.

Facebook has told the BBC that there are currently no plans to merge its services in this way - but did not rule it out from happening in the future.

Aside from the privacy-related changes, Facebook also told users it plans to:

  • Add new tools for filtering incoming messages, in response to user complaints that messages from friends were being lost in the "Other" folder.
  • Give better indicators of where posts can be viewed - and by whom.
  • Offer more guidance on managing profiles, including how to request deletion of posts a user has been "tagged" in by a friend.

As part of a lengthy list of demands, the Our Policy website criticises the proposal as being too vague.

"We want Facebook to use clear and understandable language," the group says.

"We oppose that Facebook is using 'like', 'may' or 'could' instead of clear statements. This makes it impossible to clearly know what we consent to."

More on this story

  • Google told to fix privacy policy by EU data regulators