Facebook poll on the Data Usage Policy: vote against!

You might have heard about it: Facebook offers its users to vote on a new privacy policy and other documents, after it was forced to do so by a flood of comments on the proposed policy started by an Austrian law student. With 3 days remaining and very few votes so far, the vote is not a solution but a lost battle for Schrems and his war for a fair privacy- and data use policy. Still, you should care and vote against a worsening of the terms of use.

A protracted conflict

The saga started back in August 2011, when the 24-year old student Max Schrems’s lobbying group ‘Europe versus Facebook’ filed 16 complaints at the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. One month later, another set of complaints was added to the list. In these complains, the organisation made clear that every non-US and -Canadian user has a contract with Facebook Ireland, and that they thus are entitled to call upon European law on processing and free movement of personal data and Irish law on privacy. Schrems and his group argued that while it should, Facebook does not comply with these. Following on these and other complaints, the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) audited the company and made an initial report in December 2011. For the report the DPC reviewed the company’s policies, discussed it with representatives of the company and came to the conclusion that Facebook had to update its privacy policy.

And that’s where the current story begins: Following this demand (on a laughable penalty of € 100.000), Facebook reviewed its policies and proposed suggestions in March 2012. Within the two months afterwards, Schrems’s advocate group promoted making a comment and helped the amount of remarks to cross the important bottom line of 7.000 and rise up to 47.000. Crossing the amount of 7.000 comments meant that Facebook, according to its own regulations, had to set up a vote on the privacy policy. And indeed, Facebook is doing so from June 1st to 8th.

“Chinese understanding of Democracy”

While Facebook seems to be proud of their efforts, ‘Europe versus Facebook’ considers the vote to be a façade: “It seems their motto is that democracy is only allowed if the results are right. Zuckerberg seems to have taken democracy lessons in China.”, it says on their website. Apart from a video post by Mark Zuckerberg and the earlier mentioned announcement, the network seems to prefer as few votes as possible: Before being able to vote you’ll have to receive a direct link to the voting page from a friend or a website, you’ll be kindly asked to review over 67 pages of legal documents, and confronted with an unrepresentative summary of the changes.

Since thirty per cent of the Facebook users will have to vote to make a binding outcome, it seems fair to say that it is a lost battle. Currently, less than 0,02 % of the users have voted at all with only three days are left for European users. When the election threshold is not met, the vote only counts as an advisory statement by Facebook’s users.

So what?

Even though it’s a lost battle, you still should vote. Your privacy is at stake and you should make your voice heard. I bet you wouldn’t want me to follow you everywhere you go and note down every whereabouts, so why should Facebook be able to do so without you agreeing to it? And would you want your employer to know what you say about them, either in private or on Facebook?

But it is not merely about privacy. A vote against the proposed documents, is a vote casted against you being a commercial message. As is apparent from the New York Times’ article, your funny-meant post on a product at Amazon may be used by Facebook to earn money by making an advert for Amazon out of your post. Word of mouth is thus no longer what it once was, and you yourself are being served with commercials that are targeting you personally, based on all the personal information you gave them.

Voting recommendation

To make a long story short: Go to voting platform, skip the presented arguments, and cast your vote for the current documents. If only 30 % of the Facebook users do so, the company is forced not to implement the proposed revisions, and restart the process of renewing their Data Use Policy. And that’s important, because then there’s a chance for us to further force Facebook to treat our data with respect.

Take one minute, before it’s too late…

This post was also published on RoTimes, a news blog maintained by students of the International Bachelor in Communication and Media, as part of a project to get experience with journalism.

Image(s)/Beeld: “Facebook Wants a New FaceCC BY-NC-ND by/door Rishi Bandopadhay.

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