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Facebook Drops Major Change to Privacy Policy: 'Impossible to Know What We Clearly Consent To


Buzzfeed: "Call this new regime Facebook with Authoritarian Characteristics"

(Photo: AP/Paul Sakuma)

(Photo: AP)

(TheBlaze/AP) -- Facebook is proposing to end its practice of letting users vote on changes to its privacy policies, though it will continue to let users comment on proposed updates.

The world's biggest social media company explained in a post Wednesday that its voting mechanism-- which is triggered only if enough people comment on proposed changes-- has become a system that emphasizes quantity of responses over quality of discussion. Users tend to leave one or two-word comments objecting to changes instead of more valuable, in-depth responses.

Facebook said it will continue to inform users of "significant changes" to its privacy policy, often referred to as its its "data use" policy.  The company will keep its seven-day comment period and take users' feedback into consideration, it says.

"We will also provide additional notification mechanisms, including email, for informing you of those changes," Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, assured in the post.

Facebook began letting users vote on privacy changes in 2009. Since then, the company has gone public and its user base has ballooned from around 200 million to more than 1 billion.

Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-backed think tank in Washington, said the voting process was a "noble experiment" that wasn't fit to last, since it didn't lead to informed debate.

So has Facebook become "too big for democracy," as Michael Phillips of Buzzfeed wrote?  Drawing a comparison to China, he added: "Call this new regime Facebook with Authoritarian Characteristics."

Facebook is also proposing specific changes to its data use policy, like making it clear that when users hide a post or photo from their profile page, the "timeline," those posts are not truly hidden and can be visible elsewhere, including on another person's page.

Polonetsky called Facebook's data use policy "kind of a good handbook" and a "reasonable read" on how to navigate the site's complex settings.

But almost no one actually reads the privacy policies of websites they frequent, even Facebook's.

"I certainly recommend that people read it, but most users just want to poke someone and like someone and look at a picture," Polonetsky noted.

Many are objecting to the changes, noting that even an email-- if lengthy and legal-looking-- will not be read by most who receive it.  A group called Our Policy has asked that if Facebook users are no longer able to vote on changes, that they at least be informed with "clear and understandable" language.

"We oppose that Facebook is using 'like', 'may' or 'could' instead of clear statements.  This makes it impossible to clearly know what we consent to," they explain.



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