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Turnout is low for Facebook's first-ever policy vote

Users vote to keep old privacy policies; but turnout too low to matter

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
June 9, 2012 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2758

We are living in age where privacy is increasingly becoming a concern for people. Many believe that we are sharing too much of ourselves these days, and once we put our information out there, it never truly goes away, meaning it can come back to haunt us later. People claim to want to know what is happening with their information, including who can see it and what websites are allowed to do with it.

At least, that’s what they say. But when it comes to actually taking action, will people actually take an active role in their own privacy? Apparently not.

That’s what Facebook was putting to the test when it put its proposed changes to its privacy policy up for a vote, allowing users a chance to finally have their voices heard. The poll closed on Friday after being up for seven days.

So just how many of Facebook’s 900 million users expressed their opinions?

Only 342,632, according to a blog post by Elliot Schrage, Vice President, Communications, Public Policy and Marketing. That is .038% of all users.

The number of people who voted is startlingly low, especially given that the poll was conducted on the Facebook Site Governance page, which has over 2.2 million likes. I personally am not a subscriber to that page, but I am a daily user of Facebook and was never aware that this poll was even being conducted.

Still, Schrage writes that Facebook did everything it could do get awareness out.

“Despite our substantial outreach effort, the number of people who voted constituted such a small and unrepresentative percentage of our user community. 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. There has also been widespread media attention and coverage of our notice and comment and voting process,” Schrage writes.

The upside of the poll was that 297,883 of those who voted said they wanted to keep the old policy. The downside is that 30% of all Facebook users needed to vote to make it mean anything, meaning that number of votes needed to be closer to 270 million. Otherwise, the results are merely “advisory.”

Given that the low turnout meant that Facebook was not legally obligated to take it into account, the proposed changes went into effect on Friday.

The changes came from recommendations by the Irish Data Protection Commission, the regulator in charge of Facebook’s European operations, after a group called Europe v. Facebook lobbied to have changes made to Facebook's privacy settings.

Europe v. Facebook released a statement after only two days of voting, already calling the vote a "farce," accusing the website of making it hard for users to vote, not giving them anough options and for not implementing the recommendations of the Irish Data Protection Commission.

“Facebook is again fooling its users: First they give you that whole speech about user participation, and then they hide the polling station, just to be sure. It seems their motto is that democracy is only allowed if the results are right. Zuckerberg seems to have taken democracy lessons in China,” Max Schrems, speaker of  europe-v-facebook.org, said in the statement.

It is unclear whether or not Facebook will try this experiment again.

“Given these efforts and the subsequent turnout, we plan to review this process to determine how to maximize our ability to promote user engagement and participation in our site governance process in the future,” said Schrage.

From my point of view, there is a definite upside for Facebook to try this again. It gives the appearance of transparency, of allowing users to have their say, while still allowing Facebook to implement the changes it wanted all along. This was a win-win for them.

(Image source: politicalnewsnow.com)


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