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Updated: December 9, 2012 15:21 IST

Facebook polls users on governing policies

Raghavendra S.
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Democratically: The Facebook Site Governance team, however, has concluded that the voting mechanism focuses on quantity rather than quality and, so, policy changes shall have to be debated out by users through video chats. A file photo.
AP Democratically: The Facebook Site Governance team, however, has concluded that the voting mechanism focuses on quantity rather than quality and, so, policy changes shall have to be debated out by users through video chats. A file photo.

While it might seem like a positive step, there’s still no clarity on user data control

Last week, Facebook users got an unusual request from the Web service to which they’ve entrusted their most personal data. The email invited users to vote on changes to its governing policies, which include its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Usage policy.

For a company that has drawn flak for its ‘don’t care’ approach to user privacy, this may appear as a positive step. But the proposed changes are hardly drastic, and certainly do not address what critics term the crucial link in this debate: control of data that’s uploaded on the social networking site.

For now, Facebook’s Site Governance Team has invited users to participate in the discussion on governance.

Simple enough

Most of this is done through the Facebook fan page (https://www.facebook.com/fbsitegovernance). Users, who ‘like’ this page, and thereby automatically subscribe to updates from the governance team, get a peek into the policies that Facebook’s evolving for them.

These policies, unlike other legal documents, are comprehensive and lack the usual legal pleonasm, making it simple enough to understand.

When introduced in 2009, the Facebook Site Governance page envisaged a collaborative approach of working out policies to be implemented for making user data secure, and increasing the site’s privacy quotient.

Via this page, Facebook regulators have been interacting with users to collect their opinions, and assimilate these as changes to the proposals made by the Facebook legal advisory team.

In 2009, Facebook was bubbling with about 250 million users. Today, it has a mind-boggling one billion user base.

As per the statement by Facebook, they would now discontinue interaction with users by asking them to vote, but will have a new feature to listen to their comments and suggestions.

Changes to be debated

That the voting mechanism focuses on quantity rather than quality is the conclusion Facebook Site Governance team has arrived at, and henceforth, policy changes shall have to be debated out by users through video chats when the Facebook legal team makes itself available.

The removal of the option for users to vote on the policy modifications has received mixed response. Reviewing thousands of comments on the Facebook Site Governance page might also be a tedious task for the Facebook team. If it is not implemented well, it would again reduce the role users would get to play in policymaking, something which would, undoubtedly, dilute the stated motto of this governance exercise.

The alternative feature, which many users have shown support for, is the ‘Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer’ feature. When implemented, users can write to the chief privacy officer to suggest amendments or seek clarifications on policies.

Facebook is also promising regular live interaction with experts from the site governance team.

Clearer demarcation

In the proposed modifications, there is clearer demarcation between how a user can or cannot use his/her profile for commercial gains. Facebook offers the ‘Page’ as the option for commercial usage, perhaps because it is easier for Facebook to collect statistics and data from these pages.

It has also emphasised again that creative ownership of the content put up by users would remain with the users, and that Facebook would only use it in compliance with the business standards in the Internet industry to show advertisements.

The lack of clarity on how user data is shared with advertising companies still remains.

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