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Facebook implements its Ask The CPO feature

Feature replaces user right to vote with ability to e-mail a question to the Chief Privacy Officer

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 28, 2013 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2d2f

Last November, as part of its proposed policy changes, Facebook said that it wanted to eliminate the right of Facebook users to vote on proposed policy changes, instead replacing it with new ways for users to voice their frustrations.

One of these was something called "Ask the Chief Privacy Officer," which would let users submit questions directly to Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer of Policy, Erin Egan. And, since not enough people voted to stop Facebook from making this change, the feature finally debuted late Sunday night.

All a user has to do it go to this page and fill out the form, which will be sent to Egan, who says that she will write back personally. (Whether or not she is actually reading these questions herself, or if she will ever get around to answering them, is something that users are going to have to take on faith, I suppose.)

"At Facebook, we work hard to build and maintain your trust. We understand that you’ll want to share on Facebook only if you trust us to protect the privacy and security of your information. We also understand that issues about privacy can be complex given the fast-moving nature of technology and that you have questions about privacy," Egan wrote. 

"As Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer of Policy, I’m responsible for working with our teams at Facebook to be sure that we build our products with your privacy in mind.  We also work hard to communicate with you – through our Data Use Policy, our Help Center, and in our products – about how we use your information and how you can control this use."

Here are some of the example of questions that users typically ask:

  • How does Facebook think about privacy when building its products?

Egan's answer:  "We think about and work on privacy around the clock here at Facebook and we incorporate it into every stage of our product development. At Facebook we have two Chief Privacy Officers - I focus on policy, and my colleague Michael Richter focuses on product. But everyone at Facebook is responsible for privacy, and we work closely with teams across the company to analyze the privacy implications of every product we build from the start of product development through launch."

  • How do you personally use Facebook’s privacy settings to share?

Egan's answer:  "At Facebook, we understand that different people have different privacy preferences: some people want to share everything with everyone, some want to share far less and with a small audience, and most fall somewhere in between.  That’s why these tools provide such meaningful control over how you use and experience Facebook." 

For example, Egan says that she doesn't share things about her kids, and things she posts on the go. Sometimes she will go back and share these things with more people, but not at first. 

  • Does Facebook sell my private information to advertisers?

Egan's answer: No.

"Facebook, like many companies on the web, is able to keep our service free by including advertisements. But we don’t make money by selling your private information to third parties. Instead, we support our service by showing you relevant ads that help you discover products and services that are interesting to you. We use the things you do and share on Facebook, including demographics, likes and interests to show ads that are more relevant to you."

Will Ask the CPO work?

From my point of view, I can see numerous flaws in how the Ask The CPO feature will work.

First of all, like I said, there is no way to know whether Egan is actually answering these questions herself. Not that other people who might answer would not be qualified, or would give bad answers, but I can imagine people getting quite annoyed if they find out this happened, given that they are being told that they are talking directly to someone high up in the Facebook ranks.

Secondly, and on the same point, Egan is one person. So, if there are a lot of questions, either she will need to delegate someone else to picking up the slack, or the response time is going to be long. Egan obviously has other responsibilities, and will not be spending her entire day reassuring a billion different people that their privacy is secure.

Third, people did not vote for this policy. In fact, it was voted against pretty handily. 

You see, Facebook voting was incredibly flawed, but that was by Facebook's own design. The social network instituted a policy where 30%, or 300 million people, needed to vote on a policy either way for it to stand.  If less than 30% of users vote, then the result merely becomes “advisory,” and was essentially meaningless. So, of course they never got the amount needed for voting to make a difference.

In the vote on whether or not users would get to vote in the future, 589,141 people voted in favor of keeping the old Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and only 79,731 voted for implementing Facebook’s proposed changes. Despite an overwhelming vote for keeping the right to vote, not nearly enough people made their voice heard to make a difference, and so voting went out the window. And now people are left with a feature that they never wanted.

Perhaps Ask The CPO will work, and users will finally feel that their voices are being heard. More likely, though, is that this another flawed attempt at creating dialogue, and one that Facebook will eventually throw out like the last one.

(Image source: https://www.facebook.com)

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