Insights + Resources

December 12, 2012

Half a million Facebook users reject new data use policy (but not enough)

After the news of Facebook’s proposed updates to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) and Data Use Policy was released, there was a seemingly widespread, viral community backlash.  It seemed the very foundations of social media civil liberty was at stake.

Yet, when it came down to it, of Facebook’s 1 billion user community, less than 1% cared enough to cast a vote.  Officially, 668,872 people voted, and of those, 589,141 said they opposed the new documents.   This was a tiny fraction of the 30% required to block the changes.

As a result, seemingly vindicated, Facebook today confirmed that it had decided to adopt the changes.

However, by setting the necessary threshold to veto the changes at 30% of total users, this required more than 300 million users to vote. This was never going to happen, and it calls into question whether the process ever had more than a faint blush of democracy.

The new data use policy gives Facebook rights to obtain data about users from Facebook affiliates and advertising partners with whom a user has already shared their personally identifiable data.  The ostensible reason is to “improve the quality of ads”.

This is all about making more money from more sophisticated data targeting — i.e. serving more and more personalised ads to users that are most likely to resonate with them.  This information allows Facebook to charge more to advertisers for its advertising inventory.  This is nothing new, and deep targeting is already commonplace in the online advertising industry.

However, there was some joy for aggrieved Facebook privacy activists as  Facebook has made some changes to the data use policy based on user feedback. “For example, we added new language to clarify our proposed updates on sharing information with our affiliates and our privacy controls,” wrote Elliot Schrage, VP of communications, public policy and marketing for Facebook, in a press release.

Due to the low turn-out of less than 1% of the community,  Facebook has decided to discontinue votes of this kind.  However it is expected that they will keep asking for feedback in the form of likes and comments.

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