Washington has become the first state ever to allow citizens to register to vote via Facebook, but some wonder whether this is the best idea given privacy issues the social media site has had in the past.
Policymic, for example, writes that a recent distrust by the government of Facebook's facial recognition technology and this new method of getting voters signed up to head to the polls is a "contradiction [that] highlights the incredible growth experienced by the social network, as well as its pervasiveness in our every day activities..." Policymic points out that Facebook was recently called into question by the Senate:
In a hearing on Wednesday, members of a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) sought answers from a senior Facebook official about the social network’s use of facial-recognition technology, challenging Facebook’s policy of setting the tag suggestions facial-recognition feature as a default, and then allowing users to opt out.
Senator Franken also suggested that the company has not been as forthcoming as it could be about how much data it collects and how that information is used. “I think Facebook could still do more to explain to its users how it uses facial recognition,” Franken said.
It has also recently agreed to submit to 20 years of government audits as a result of what some considered shady actions regarding its changes of privacy policies on users.
Still, Shane Hamlin, Washington's co-director of elections, tries to dispel some of the privacy concerns. According to Reuters (via the Chicago Tribune), Hamlin said once you begin inputing your information into the app -- MyVote -- "you're no longer entering data on Facebook." He reiterated that "Facebook is not collecting any of the data."
According to Reuters, name, birth date and a state identification number or driver's license number is all that's required.
Washington's deputy director of communications for the Secretary of State, Brian Zylstra, said Facebook and Microsoft, which co-developed the app, approached them about introducing the app to the state's constituents -- at no charge to the state.
“With online voter registration it helps reduce costs because there’s no paperwork involved,” Zylstra said according to WNYC. “We still have paper voting registration, which costs some money there, but it will help save our state and counties time and money by doing it online because it’s paperless.”
Zylstra also confirmed Facebook would not be collecting any of the data provided by users.
Washington is one of nine states that have some form of online voter registration. WNYC reports other states also have some legislation pending that could someday allow for online registration.