Facebook Launches “Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer” To Replace Policy Voting With Understanding

To “enable you to send us your questions, concerns, and feedback about privacy,” Facebook today launched “Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer.” Questions submitted through the form on Facebook’s Privacy Page will be answered once a month in a Note by CPO Erin Egan. It’s one alternative for having your voice heard that Facebook announced would replace the recently abolished policy voting system.

Egan announced the feature this morning in Washington, D.C., at Facebook’s “Data Policy Day.” In her note about the launch, she admitted, “We also understand that issues about privacy can be complex given the fast-moving nature of technology.” That may be a bit of an understatement. Facebook gives people an unprecedented way to communicate publicly.

To use “Ask Our CPO,” visit Facebook’s Privacy Page, click the “Ask Erin” box beneath the Timeline Cover, fill out the form, and hit “Submit.” Egan will then address a selection of the questions in a monthly Note published by the Privacy Page. Additionally, Egan will be available to answer questions in a regular live-streamed video conference.

Ask Our CPO FormAs an example of what you could learn from Ask Our CPO, Egan answered a few common questions about Facebook’s thoughts on privacy in her announcement of the feature:

  • How does Facebook think about privacy when building its products?
    Short Answer: Systematically thanks to a cross-functional privacy team and company-wide privacy training
  • How do you personally use Facebook’s privacy settings to share?
    Short Answer: “Some people want to share everything with everyone, some want to share far less and with a small audience, and most fall somewhere in between.” Egan uses Facebook Lists to share with specific friends, and “Only Me” to privately scrapbook photos of her kids.
  • Does Facebook sell my private information to advertisers?
    Short Answer: “No…We use the things you do and share on Facebook, including demographics, likes and interests to show ads that are more relevant to you.”

Theoretically, being able to ask questions gives users less of a voice than the old policy voting system did. But in reality, the voting system was broken. An astronomically high 30 percent of Facebook users had to vote to make their decision binding, which was never going to happen. For example, in Facebook’s final policy vote about whether it should abolish voting, less than 1 percent of users voted.

Voting wasn’t necessarily productive anyway because there was an underlying problem with privacy on Facebook: People don’t fully understand it. Hopefully, Ask Our CPO can address this. The impetus will be on Facebook to promote the monthly answers to questions, possibly with notices in the form of sidebar or news feed ads.

Otherwise many people will continue stumbling in the dark when it comes to Facebook privacy. The social network needs people to understand and trust it so they’ll be willing to share more information that can earn it money and make Facebook more interesting to their friends.