Facebook adopts new terms of service and data use policy following low voter turnout

Facebook adopted a new Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities on Friday after a user vote failed to generate enough response to be considered binding, according to a note on the Facebook Site Governance page.

In its second-ever user vote, users had the option to vote for Facebook’s existing policies or new proposed policies through a relatively simple app. Although 297,883 people voted for Facebook to keep its existing policies, overall not enough users participated for the results to become a mandate. According to Facebook’s governing documents, results are only “advisory” when fewer than 30 percent of all monthly active users vote.

In this case, many of the votes for the existing policy were the result of an activist campaign that actually calls for sweeping changes not offered by either policy. The vote itself was triggered by the campaign, in which user Max Schrems encouraged thousands of users to comment “I oppose the changes and want a vote about the demands on www.our-policy.org.” Facebook always gives users the option to review proposed policy changes, but if more than 7,000 users comment on those changes, the policy is put up to a vote.

“We did reach the threshold because a viral meme was created, and unfortunately the result is a vote,” Facebook Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan told TechCrunch earlier this month.

The newly implemented policies do not include any major changes to how the social network collects or uses user data. The changes are mostly updated wording — for example, using “Timeline” instead of “profile” — and added clarification about existing policy. Clearer examples and user tips have been added to the Data Use Policy per recommendations from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s Office, which audited the social network’s data collection practices last year.

“We strongly believe these updates provide you with more detail and transparency about our data protections and practices,” Facebook wrote in the note announcing the decision to adopt the proposed policies. “We received a great deal of positive feedback about these changes from our regulators and the many other stakeholders – including privacy and consumer groups – we consulted about these revisions.”

Facebook says it will review its site governance process following the low participation. A total of only 342,632 users voted. That’s about 0.38 percent of active users, and only 15 percent of people who Like the Facebook Site Governance page, which posted several times about the vote. Facebook also ran mobile and desktop ads to encourage participation. As far as we know, the company did not send emails or prompt users with messages above their News Feeds, which might have resulted in more feedback.

The new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, also known as a terms of service agreement, is available here. Facebook’s Data Use Policy, formerly known as its privacy policy, is here.