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Friday, December 7, 2012

Facebook Likely to End Experiment With Democracy

A half-million Facebook users have told the social network they do not want the company to change its privacy policy. Sounds impressive, right? Well, the only way that crowd will get its way and the status quo remain intact is if an additional 300 million people vote thumbs down before Monday. Odds of that happening? About zero.

Facebook says the changes to the policy are minor and beneficial for users. One concerns the integration of Instagram data with Facebook; another changes the filters for managing incoming messages. Privacy watchdogs disagree. So do those who bothered to vote: Shortly before noon Pacific time on Friday, 476,718 were against the proposed changes. A mere 68,884 were in favor.

But the really interesting change is that Facebook is proposing to end this system of direct voting, which w as implemented in early 2009 after a major privacy flap. “If we are trying to move the world to being more open and transparent and to get people to share more information, having an open process around this is ultimately the only way to do that,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, said at the time in a conference call.

The problem was that more than 30 percent of all Facebook users had to vote against a proposal for it to be binding. In the last vote, in June, the no's outweighed the yeses by a ratio of six to one, but the total votes were less than one half of 1 percent of the users. That made the vote simply advisory. And so Facebook went ahead and implemented the changes anyway.

There has been relatively little commentary, much less outrage, abo ut the new changes. One notable exception was Michael Phillips, who wrote a much-quoted piece in BuzzFeed, “The End of the Facebook Democracy”: “By repealing Facebook Suffrage, Facebook abandons a fundamental norm - that its users are citizens in a community, and not simply datapoints on an advertising algorithm. The vote may be quixotic, but if Facebook remains the indispensable social network, you'll want to be able to tell your grandchildren you fought for Facebook freedom.”

Some users are trying to take their privacy into their own hands. They are reproducing the following text as a status update:

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, status updates, messages, photos, videos and all other personal content that I post or have posted, online, as a result of the Berne Convention, on my perso nal profile page, or anyone else's page, For commercial use of the above, MY WRITTEN CONSENT IS NEEDED AT ALL TIMES WITH NO EXCEPTION.”

Perhaps this makes them feel better. But in reality, it has no legal standing at all.