Privacy slip-up as Facebook shows us who our friends want as PM – on election day

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In another privacy slip-up, today Facebook showed me who my friends wanted for PM in the UK General Election. On election day.

Today Facebook was continuing to push out it’s Democracy UK poll, and interested in what it did I tried it out myself. I idly pushed the “Cameron for PM” button wondering if it would just give me some results (actually that’s not how I vote as it happens) and I was presented with the results. There was a button to see how my friends had voted, and duly, up came people in my social graph and who they had voted to be PM.

Now, this is admittedly a poll which was started before the election today. The results of the poll were released on Tuesday.

But today the rules are different. Voting intention polls and exit polls are illegal on the actual election day. Which is why I was surprised that Facebook was allowing this poll to continue.

A spoksperson insisted to me that the poll “didn’t actually ask people how they were going to vote/have voted, it just asked who they would like to see as PM.” They said “it is the same as if they rang, emailed or text their friends who they had voted for, which is not an exit poll.” Facebook insisted the poll didn’t show how or where they have voted.

However there was no warning at all that I would be presented with who my friends had picked for PM or that they would see whatever button I had pressed.

In other words my friends may well now think I voted for a party that I didn’t actually vote for. Although it is worth pointing out that this did not appear in my feed, only on the polling results.

But shortly after I enquired as to why the poll was still running on election day Facebook took the poll down.

In any event, what basically just happened was that hundreds of thousands of people on Facebook saw who their friends wanted to the Prime Minister on the actual election day.

So their secret ballot was not so secret any more.

  • Brian Regan

    Mike
    Congratulations on your scoop and thank you. I saw you article first mentioned on the Guardian website and then noticed it is on the Sydney Morning Herald but without acknowledgement.
    Thanks for providing me with an introductory anecdote for my lecture on security and privacy to first years next Tuesday.
    Cheers
    Brian

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      Oh Hi Brian, thanks. My pleasure.

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