Facebook allows users to vote on privacy changes, but it may not happen again

A Facebook logo. REUTERS/Thomas Hodel photoThanks to a vocal group in Europe, Facebook is allowing users to vote on its policies before changes are made, turning the social network briefly into a miniature democracy.

It's the second time that Facebook has allowed such a vote to take place, the first occurring when it was a smaller website with only 200 million users back in 2009. According to Facebook's policies, a minimum of 7,000 comments must be made on a proposal for the site to consider putting changes to a vote. If the vote takes place, a minimum of 30 per cent of Facebook's active users must agree to the change for it to take place.

Max Schrems, the organizer of Europe vs. Facebook, encouraged members of his group to paste messages to Facebook's Site Governance page, Tech Crunch reports, and managed to reach the required 7,000 comments to trigger the vote (although by the time the feedback period concluded, there were over 42,000 comments). Now, Facebook has opened a one week voting period to approve policy changes it announced prior to its IPO.

The vote centres on Facebook being allowed to tailor ads to your social behaviour. As Gizmodo puts it, "pretty much, anything you like or link or share would be used to market to you."

The process to trigger a vote, however, will be under review in the coming months, based on how Schrems went about generating the required number of comments. Facebook's chief privacy officer for policy Erin Egan told Tech Crunch that many of the comments were without substance and were simply this copied-and-pasted text: "I oppose the changes and want a vote about the demands on www.our-policy.org."

"Max is a user of ours and we appreciate his feedback, but we worry that the voting threshold number may be incentivizing quantity over quality," Egan said, referring to the policy comments that Facebook receives. She added that they would be looking into a new system that encouraged users to review the changes for themselves and give their own opinions.

The vote will be open until June 8.