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Privacy Groups Ask Facebook CEO Zuckerberg To Reconsider Proposed Policy Changes

By Francis Rey Balolong / Nov 27, 2012 / Social Media
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Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, now sits in the hot seat after releasing a proposal to change its privacy policy.

“We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period but have found that the voting mechanism created a system that incentivized quantity of comments over the quality of them,” said Elliot Schrage, Head of Communications at Facebook, last week.

More: Facebook Proposes Updates To Privacy Policy Documents, Blocks User Voting Mechanism

Privacy groups are hounding Facebook over the proposed changes to stop user voting on Data Use Policy and sharing user information with affiliate applications such as Instagram.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and Jeffrey Chester, president of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), have written a joint letter (PDF) addressed to Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to review the changes on his social network.

“Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes,” said the letter.

In 2009, Facebook started to provide a voting mechanism for proposed changes to its governing documents after serious criticism from privacy and consumer groups.

“The voting process was structured as a notice-and-comment rulemaking: Facebook would create a blog post announcing a proposed change to its governing documents, and allow 30 days for comments. If 7,000 users commented on the post, the proposed change would be subjected to a user vote. If fewer than 7,000 users commented, Facebook would be free to adopt its proposed change without a user vote. In this way, Facebook hoped to demonstrate its commitment ‘to an open and transparent system of governance’.”

The two privacy groups pointed out that Facebook added a section to its Data Use Policy entitled ‘Affiliates.’ This move allows Facebook-owned photo-sharing service Instagram to acquire user information from the world’s largest social network without consent.

‘‘We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of, or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates). Likewise, our affiliates may share information with us as well,” said Schrage in Facebook’s blog post.

EPIC and CDD answered, “When Facebook first announced its acquisition of Instagram, it also announced its commitment “to building and growing Instagram independently,” rather than integrating the two sites. With the addition of the “Affiliates” section however, Facebook could alter its practice of maintaining Instagram and Facebook user information separately. It could combine user profiles and freely share user data between the two sites.”

“Facebook’s proposed changes implicate the user privacy and the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The settlement prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information.”

More: Facebook Privacy Operation Tightens Up, Conforms To FTC Requirements

“By removing users’ ability to prevent strangers from sending unwanted messages, the proposed changes are likely to increase the amount of spam that users receive. Facilitating spam violates users’ privacy and security, as many Facebook scams are accomplished through the messaging feature,” said the privacy groups.

Facebook has nearly one billion users and both EPIC and CDD charges it of disregarding their voices.

They wrote, “Although Facebook’s existing voting mechanism set an unreasonably high participation threshold, scrapping the mechanism altogether raises questions about Facebook’s willingness to take seriously the participation of Facebook users.”

“Now, we ask that Facebook be similarly responsive to the rights of Facebook users to control their personal information and to participate in the governance of Facebook. We ask that you withdraw the proposed changes to the Data Use Policy and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

More: Facebook will Undertake Privacy Checks for 2 Decades – FTC

While the letter was for Mark Zuckerberg, EPIC and CDD sent carbon copies to the chairman and four commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission, four US Senators, four US House representatives and the president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Privacy Groups Ask Facebook To Reconsider Proposed Policy Changes
Image: DonkeyHotey, via Flickr (CC)
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