Facebook proposes data-sharing with Instagram, end to site governance voting

Facebook today proposed changes to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that will allow the company to share information with affiliates like Instagram and put an end to site governance voting, among other more minor changes.

New language about “affiliates” has been added to the Data Use Policy to cover Facebook’s relationship with Instagram, which it acquired this year. The proposed policy reads:

We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of, or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates). Likewise, our affiliates may share information with us as well. We and our affiliates may use shared information to help provide, understand, and improve our services and their own services.

Even though Instagram is continuing to operate under its original brand rather than Facebook’s, the company is legally considered an affiliate and the two services can share information, for instance, to personalize a user’s experience or target ads.

The company is also looking to change a policy that it believes promotes quantity over quality feedback. In 2009 Facebook decided to give users the option to review proposed policy changes and then offer a vote if more than 7,000 users comment on those changes. This led to a situation where users copy-pasted the same comment over and over to trigger a vote on policy changes earlier this year. However, not enough users ended up voting to prevent Facebook’s proposal from going through, since results are only binding if at least 30 percent of users participate. Nonetheless, the entire situation was less than ideal and so Facebook is looking to remove the voting option completely.

Facebook wants to leave in language requiring the company to provide a seven-day comment period in advance of any change. Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan also told TechCrunch that the social network is adding new ways to educate users about site governance issues and receive feedback. A new feature will allow users to submit questions to Egan through Facebook’s official privacy pages, and Egan will begin appearing in livestreamed events where users can share their concerns or request more information.

Although the existing policy of 7,000 comments triggering a vote does not make sense now that the social network has 1 billion users rather than 200 million as it did when it created the policy, eliminating the vote completely takes away the appearance of democracy. Of course, Facebook has only ever had two instances of user voting in its history, and only a percentage participated so the company might not be taking much of a risk in abolishing the policy — though it seems to have announced the change before the Thanksgiving holiday just in case.

That said, the stakes are higher than ever with more users putting more data into the system and more developers and advertisers looking to capitalize on that. Users should be vigilant about how their information is being used, but Facebook has grown out of the stage where it could self-regulate with some user input. At Facebook’s scale now, and especially as a publicly traded company, it will face government and other third-party regulation that make the idea of a user vote feel quaint.

Visit Facebook’s Site Governance page for more information about the proposed changes and to leave your feedback.