Facebook’s privacy problems go to a vote: have your say

It’s clear from Facebook’s past that the social networking giant has some problems with how it deals with privacy and the choices it makes, but now it’s letting you pick which privacy policy the site ends up using.

The question facing all Facebook users for the next week is this: do you want the old privacy policy or the new one?

All Facebook users get the choice to partake in this special vote, but the company requires that it will only follow the choice of its users once 30% have voted for a specific change.

With roughly one billion people on Facebook, this means that almost 300 million accounts have to agree, selecting one policy over the other. Unlike the Australian voting system, you’re not required to vote, and as such, it’s highly unlikely that Facebook will even see the required 30% voting for any one side, giving them an easy control to implement this new privacy policy.

It’s this new policy that is sparking concern, affording Facebook the opportunity to keep more information about you than ever, and giving advertisers even more control to target you, even going beyond what you do on the Facebook website and applications.

One of the reasons we’re actually get a say this time, though, is thanks to Max Schrems, the founder of “Europe vs. Facebook”, a group that flooded Facebook with comments about how potentially illegal both the old and new Facebook privacy policies were in Europe, and as a result how dissatisfied these users were.

When Facebook put forth its changes to the privacy policy, thousands of comments were entered in, forcing Facebook to offer its users a vote.

Part of the problem with this issue is that Facebook hasn’t really made things easy on the regular Facebook user, requiring them to read several pages of legalese to explain what these changes are.

It’s sort of like the terms and conditions of a product or webpage: no one ever reads them, and as such, this vote is made even harder to read.

We have a link to what Facebook proposes to change, and you can certainly read it, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. It’s seriously long, and will require you to compare and contrast several documents, learning the specifics of what the company plans on doing differently.

Suffice it to say, Facebook plans on doing the following:

  • Timeline info: Always showing information on your timeline, including cover photo, gender, name, profile picture, and username. Your information won’t be shown in search engines unless it’s set to “Public”.
  • Nothing is ever deleted: You could delete a message from your system, but others may still have access to it. In fact, even if they delete the same message, the service will likely retain that message permanently, or until you delete your account.
  • What you like is used for ads: More data you post – including when you “like” brands or products, and when you specifically mention items in posts – will be used as harvested advertising information.
    If you end up saying “I really love my Samsung Galaxy S3” on Facebook, expect the site to target you with ads relating to mobile phones automatically.
  • Infinite advertising potential: Advertising information is kept for what looks to be an infinite amount of time, allowing Facebook and its advertisers to keep targeting you indefinitely.
  • Painting a target: Aforementioned advertising info can be used to target ads to you even when you’re not using Facebook.
    Surfing the web, you may head to a different site and find the ads are about something you just wrote about in a status update.
  • Even more cookies: Facebook has lots of cookies to track what you like, but we may even see more forms of tracking software thrown in the site. Even more annoying, these cookies may actually track what you’re doing outside of Facebook.
    Visit a few news sites, Amazon, and some other websites? Chances are that information will be sent to Facebook.

What we’ve mentioned isn’t even the full thing that Facebook is changing, but you’re welcome to see it yourself.

If you want to vote on the issue, Facebook’s Site Governance Vote gives you one chance to have your say, and you can’t change it.

Check it out here, but make sure you do it before 2 am June 9. The vote officially closes at 9am on June 8, 2012, but that’s very early Saturday morning for us.