Vote ends on Facebook privacy changes, for good

Apathetic users mean vote falls far short of forcing Facebook to keep old rules

The user vote over Facebook's latest proposed privacy policy change is over and the results showed two things: Facebook overwhelming got the go-ahead to make its policy changes and it showed just how apathetic the site's users are about online privacy.

The vote, which ended Monday at 3 p.m. ET, showed 589,141 users opposed to the change and 79,731 in favor. At first glance, you'd think that means Facebook won't be able to move ahead. That's just not the case, though.

According to Facebook's standing rules, if more than 30% of all active registered users vote, the results are binding. If the voting turnout is less than 30%, the vote is nothing more than advisory. Since Facebook has more than 1 billion active users, more than 300 million people needed to vote for the decision to count.

As a result Facebook will be able to push through its policy change, which means users' comments will be less important and they'll no longer get a say on upcoming changes.

Facebook historically had a rule that any proposed policy changes that attracted 7,000 "substantive" comments would be put to a vote. That will no longer be the case.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said voters themselves just showed the issue isn't a big deal to users.

"So they only got .07% of the total 1 billion user base to participate in the election," he added. "The vast majority of users don't think about this stuff much. The ones you hear from are a very tiny, but vocal, minority."

However, this doesn't mean Facebook can just do anything it wants, Olds noted.

"They're so big now that every change they make will be scrutinized by major media outlets, business publications, blogs, and of course, users, too," he said. "Their moves will get even more attention, both good and bad. So they're still going to be accountable for what they do privacy-wise; it just won't be by a formal user vote."

In an earliers interview, Olds had said it makes sense for Facebook to want to amend the way it pushes policy changes through. The voting policy was written when the site was much smaller.

For example, Olds noted that it only took 7,000 users to force a vote on a Facebook privacy issue. With more than 1 billion worldwide users, that is one thousandth of 1% of total users.

"If the same principle was applied to the United States, it would mean that 2,100 hotheads could force a nationwide vote on whatever issue has them all hot and bothered," he said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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