Facebook Users Vote on Policy Changes—Just Not That Many

Despite some users' ire, vote likely to matter little

On Monday Facebook opened up the polls for users to vote on proposed changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy. Those changes include sharing data between Facebook and Instagram (which it acquired earlier this year) and ending the user-voting process that gets triggered whenever Facebook puts policy revisions on the table.

The current vote, which ends on Dec. 10, came to be as these sorts of public votes always do. Facebook proposed its changes, and enough users commented to trigger a vote. What's fueling the voting interest this time around is Facebook's widely publicized provision about discontinuing such votes on future policy changes.

Problem is, this vote likely won’t matter in the long run—it might not even matter now. For Facebook to be mandated to follow the voting results, 30 percent of its billion-plus total user base needs to participate in the vote. Even though 85 percent of the votes have been against the proposed revisions as of this writing, little more than 300,000 users (or a miniscule 0.03 percent of Facebook’s total user base) have bothered to vote.

By comparison, the last time Facebook held a vote on proposed SRR and Data Use Policy changes—in June, when one proposed change would have paved the path to an external Facebook ad network—87 percent of voters were against the changes but only 342,632 users participated, which made the vote advisory rather than binding, leaving Facebook open to make the proposed changes official. And so it did.

So what happens if the vote fails to hit the 30 percent mark? Facebook is free to pass the changes if it wants to, and no future votes will be held. As consolation, Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan will answer users’ privacy questions through the company’s privacy page and host regular webcasts on the topic.