Facebook’s Policy Changes and the Repercussions to Come

facebookWhile Facebook is already no stranger to criticism and controversy regarding the privacy of its users, a new series of issues are arising out of the social network’s new attempt to make policy changes.

Just two weeks ago, Facebook had asked users to vote on a proposal that would forfeit the right of users to further vote on privacy measures regarding the network. A vote to give up the right to vote? The proposal has had quite a number of people in the sphere laughing at the idea. But now it is getting a bit more serious.

According to a public statement from Facebook, there was initial value to be found in the comment-based voting system regarding privacy rights. But through the perspective of Facebook, it was found that the system was leading to counterproductive comments, or one’s that were “incentivized”.

The concern of a high number of comments over the quality of them has led Facebook to where it is now – to develop a new voting system that will not involve the input of users. As of last Wednesday, Facebook will not allow users to vote on any further measures. This is just one of three new pillars of change with the new policy, as stated by Kashmir Hill of Forbes.

The second measure involves Facebook’s ability to share the information of users to affiliates – a move that would ease revenue collection from advertisements. Since Facebook has gone public, the role of advertising has risen with little support from users who feel that any news feed is appearing increasingly as a commercial.

Sharing more private information across other Facebook-owned companies looks to consolidate the information into one definitive profile of users, but just what is getting out there has not been specified.

Another clause of change that could certainly be a concern of privacy and security involves the ability to block private messages from unwanted users. According to Cynthia Boris of Marketing Pilgrim, the changes could open the ability of “marketing messages” to come towards the way of users. Might be an unwanted hassle for some, and a serious intrusion to others.

As one would expect, the proposition and changes from Facebook has launched a string of criticism from privacy group and users themselves.

In a dire attempt to ward off and immunize the policy changes, a viral message wave splashed on the site at the beginning of this week, with Facebook users posting a status update that would protect them from Facebook’s changes. More out of fear than reasoning, user’s quickly learned that posting such a message does absolutely nothing to nullify the changes since they had agreed to the terms of services when they signed up.

In a more organized effort, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) have publicly asked Facebook to drop these changes, citing intrusions on the users right to privacy. Both the CDD and EPIC wrote to Facebook in saying that the changes also go against what users had initially agreed to, and might go against the privacy laws of varying governments.

Facebook has had a history of working with governments to resolve similar issues. During the summer, Facebook came under fire from the European Union – specifically the Irish government – for some policy changes regarding facial recognition software. The EU was successful in prohibiting Facebook from carrying on.

As far as the EU’s debacle with Facebook, the complexity go beyond just facial recognition. Around February of this year, an Austrian law student by the name of Max Schrems met with a privacy representative of Facebook to discuss his concerns knowing that Facebook was keeping an extremely detailed record of all his past activity.

Some say that Schrems efforts to expose Facebook’s severe misunderstanding of European privacy laws was the impetus of a more globalized call to action for the rights of users.

The more recent brush with the EU indicates that Facebook could one again be ready for further talks, especially since these changes are more ubiquitous. Their secondary attempts to outright change privacy policies also indicates their unwillingness to learn past lessons, and to take any opportunity they can to maximize revenues.

Ezra Melino is a blogger in tech, science and everything in between. If you have any comments on Facebook’s changes, leave them in the space below.

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