European Activists Could Force Facebook’s New Privacy Changes To A Worldwide Vote

Next Story

Facebook Says Haters Gonna Hate, Likers Gonna Like

The European activists “europe-v-facebook.org”, led by a group of Austrian students, say that they have reached the 7,000-comment threshold on a Facebook privacy proposal, first raised last week, which would force the company to take the revisions to a worldwide vote. Perhaps not the best timing for Facebook, but great timing for those looking for more profile on the whole issue of privacy and how it is approached by Facebook.

Specifically, if you go to Facebook’s English-language Data Use Policy page where it has detailed the new proposals, there are now over 9,000 comments on the post. The proposal, you can see, has some XXX’s at the top: that’s because it is due to close this evening, at 5pm Pacific Time (yes, more business as usual at Facebook, despite the fact that it also happens to be going through the biggest IPO ever in tech history).

The signatures are potentially a milestone moment in a campaign that began about a year ago, when the activist group filed 22 complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (Facebook’s international HQ is in Ireland). Those complaints in part led to the DPC issuing a report in December with some suggested changes to its privacy policy — largely aimed at making it more transparent and for users to be able to more clearly access all their data and delete it if they choose — but the activists believe that the changes in fact “worsened many issues and did not comply with the Irish conditions.” The Irish DPC and its German counterpart, the German Data Protection Agency, have put in more suggestions for changes since then.

Europe-v-facebook.org has been trying to drum up support for its campaign and says that after an appearance on a German TV show “Stern TV,” it resulted in a wave of responses — 30,000 on the German version of the privacy proposal page, and over 7,000 on the English page (although if you look at that page you can see that there are a lot of German comments there, too).

What happens next? It’s an unprecedented situation but Facebook says in its own “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” that it will take any proposed changes to its wider user base, currently at 901 million active users, for a vote, and if 30 percent of them vote in favor or against, their decision will be binding:

If more than 7,000 users comment on the proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30% of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote.

It’s been a hot topic, but it’s anyone’s guess whether 300 million people will actually make the effort to weigh in on privacy. And according to europe-v-facebook.org, Facebook is still looking at the comments to decide whether they are applicable to this rule. Indeed, there’s scope for duplicates and fake comments, so that is one vetting that will likely be done first.

We have also reached out to Facebook ourselves for a comment and will update this as we learn more.