Opinion

Paul Smalera

from MediaFile:

Facebook’s private experiment with democracy

Jun 7, 2012 15:45 UTC

Facebook is having a vote on changes to its privacy policy. Not that you'd know it.

Voter turnout has always been a problem for developed nations, but what about developed social networks? Facebook, with its 900 million users, is often written about as if it were the personal prelature of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. But Facebook itself prefers the term “ecosystem” – with good reason. Facebook’s engineers provide the basic conditions for life – the agar at the bottom of the social-media Petri dish. In turn, it's developers and users who really craft their own worlds, their own experiences of Facebook – not Facebook itself. And whatever world they craft, it can only exist in the laws that govern the Facebook universe. Who ultimately decides those laws? Facebook.

Given that reality, it’s amazing that most users don’t care a lick about the vote happening on the site, right now, today, over proposed changes to Facebook’s privacy policies. Nor did they care much about the last vote over the site’s Terms of Service, which happened in 2009. Of course, it’s hard to care about something you don’t know is happening. Even though the vote is making the news here and there, there’s no inkling of any promotion on Facebook itself about what sounds like a rather important site event.

Go ahead and take a look. Log into your Facebook page and check for any kind of banner alerting you to the fact that a vote over two policies – the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and the Data Use Policy – is under way until Friday June 8, 9 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time. You won’t find it. Nor will you likely find the Facebook Site Governance page, because, if you’re like me, despite the page garnering 2.1 million likes, only three of my several hundred friends have found it, and I clearly missed those particular updates whenever they scrolled across my feed.

What’s worse, even if you find these pages, as I did, and manage to vote on them, your vote will likely count for nothing. Facebook has reserved the right to keep the results of the vote as “advisory” unless 30 percent of its active userbase actually fills out the ballot. So, unless 230 million of us bother to read these documents and vote on them, Facebook will do whatever it wants, anyway, likely adopting the documents as proposed. (If you’re wondering, there’s little new material in them. Mostly they're housekeeping changes making the documents a bit clearer in defining terms – as best I can tell, anyway. They are quite long and dry.)

The piracy of online privacy

Feb 10, 2012 18:28 UTC

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

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