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Analysts debate effect of Facebook's policy changes on users

As Facebook pushes users out of the decision-making loop, what's it mean?

November 28, 2012 03:56 PM ET

Computerworld - Despite calls for Facebook to stop planned changes to the way it makes privacy policy, analysts are divided over whether the changes would be bad for users.

Last week, Facebook announced that it's making an adjustment to the way it pushes through changes to its privacy policy. Facebook will no longer allow users to vote on proposed policy changes, citing the lack of quality comments it has been getting.

Facebook previously had a rule that any of its proposed policy changes that attracted 7,000 "substantive" comments would be put to a vote. That will no longer be the case.

"In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made," Facebook said in a post. "However, we found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality."

The move first propelled the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland, where Facebook's European Union headquarters is situated, to contact the social network for a clarification of its position.

On Tuesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy teamed up to ask Facebook to withdraw the changes, saying that users have a right to participate in Facebook's governance.

On the heels of Facebook's announcement last week, a rampant "Facebook copyright" hoax made its way across the social network. The hoax seemed to build on users' privacy fears.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, called this latest move another example of Facebook's "messing" with its users.

"Facebook got in way too deep by making a commitment they couldn't or didn't want to keep," Moorhead said. "I don't believe too many users even knew they had a voting system, but that's missing the point. It's the principle of the matter, which is about consistency of service."

Moorhead also noted that if Facebook goes through with the policy change, it will be bad news for users over the long haul, leaving them without a "democratic mechanism" to air any grievances.

However, Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said, the proposed change may not be as bad as it seems.

"Heavily involved Facebook users are sure to take umbrage with what seems, on the surface, to be a sharp slap in the face," Old said. "But I have to say that I think maybe Facebook has a point here. The voting policy was written when the site was much smaller. Now that they're pushing a billion members, the initial voting numbers don't make a lot of sense."

For example, Olds noted that it only takes 7,000 users to force a vote on a Facebook privacy issue. With more than 1 billion worldwide users, that is one thousandth of 1% of total users.



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