Facebook puts proposed privacy changes up for a vote

Facebook users have a chance to weigh in on a series of changes to the Facebook privacy policy.

Facebook is putting changes to its privacy policy up for a vote.

A little known Facebook bylaw says that if 7,000 users comment on proposed changes to the site's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy, Facebook must put the entire proposal up for a vote. The last time this happened was way back in 2009. Now, as a newly-public Facebook attempts to revise its privacy policies, its happening again. 

According to TechCrunch, the impetus behind the new vote is Max Schrems, the Austrian founder of Europe Vs. Facebook. Over the last month, Schrems successfully persuaded over 40,000 users to pepper Facebook with comments. Many of the comments were cut-and-pasted from Schrems' site, and read simply: "I oppose the changes and want a vote about the demands on www.our-policy.org."

At issue are a relatively minor series of alterations, which CNET describes as not a "huge change," and TechCrunch as "relatively benign."

But critics have worried that the new policy would give Facebook more leeway on how it distributes user data, especially to advertisers. "We want Facebook to publish a list of all data categories and subcategories that are stored about a user, instead of just naming a couple of examples," reads copy posted to Schrems' site. "Facebook should also publish the purpose for keeping the information."

Facebook users have a week to vote on the proposal. The digital ballot box can be accessed through a widget set up by Wildfire, an independent company. Facebook currently has just shy of a billion users. In order for the vote to be binding, 30 percent of that user base – or more than 300 million people – have to weigh in. Meanwhile, "an independent auditor will examine the vote tabulation to further ensure accurate results," Facebook promised. 

"While our participatory mechanisms may change, our commitment to greater transparency, accountability and responsiveness will not," Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications at Facebook, wrote in a statement. "We will explore ways to bring user suggestions and concerns before Facebook's management. We will explore ways to tap into the insights and expertise of Facebook user communities worldwide." 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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