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Facebook privacy vote was dud with a thud

Facebook faces
Duane Hoffman /

Proving that Facebook should never become a real country, a recent user vote on privacy changes resulted in ... hardly anyone voting.

"Hardly anyone" meant 342,632 votes — a smidgen of a smidgen of the social network's 900 million-plus users worldwide. 

Thirty percent of those users, or 270 million people, would have had to vote on the changes to have the process be binding. Anything less, and Facebook considered the vote advisory only.

And Facebook was not impressed with the turnout.

"Despite our substantial outreach effort, the number of people who voted constituted such a small and unrepresentative percentage of our user community," wrote Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, in a lengthy posting on the social network about the results of the vote.

Facebook, he said, "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." There was also lots of media coverage about the vote, he said.

Not everyone agrees that Facebook did all it can to get out the vote. Some on the social network complaiend about the vote's lack of visibility in response to Schrage's post.

"I'm sorry, but for various reasons, I'm on Facebook all day long, and have not seen anything regarding this," posted Josh Shook. "As for you piping it thru the news media ...uh... you're one of the largest websites in the world, and I'm pretty confident you reach into more peoples lives with your website than the actual news does. You can reach into my search history and see that I've shopped for diapers for my son lately and post advertisements on that, but not put one there regarding this? lol. More like significant efforts to be lazy."

Facebook user Stefano Bellezza posted, "I'll second whoever said that this poll was hidden quite deeply in the site, it had no prominence at all, and I found only because I read on the newspapers that it existed at all, and Googled it. If indeed your intent was widespread participation, you haven't gotten a single thing right."

Casey Johnston of ArsTechnica wrote that the social network's efforts were "token" at best in the way in notified users, in contrast with Google, "which placed a link to its new privacy policy under the search box on its home page, for every user, for a few weeks before the policy went into effect. You can lead the slack-jawed Internet users to the privacy policy, but you can't make them read. In Facebook's case, there wasn't even much leading."

The group Europe v. Facebook, was also critical of how the election was handled. "First they give you that whole speech about user participation, and then they hide the polling station, just to be sure. To us this is more of a Chinese than an American understanding of democracy," the group said on its site.

The vote, which was held during a seven-day period ending June 8, asked users about previously announced changes to its privacy policy including new sections explaining how Facebook uses people's information.

Schrage wrote that "since transparent governance and user participation are critical values for us, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in this process by voting and providing feedback on the proposed changes," Schrage wrote. 

Even thought the vote was small, he said, "We value the feedback we have received from you during the voting process and our notice and comment period. We will take it into serious consideration for any future changes we contemplate."

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