Facebook: Vote to Keep Voting Rights
PHOTO: On Dec. 3, 2012 Facebook began letting users vote on new guidelines.

It's time to head to the polls -- the Facebook polls, that is. It could be the last (even if it's the first) time you ever do.

Facebook has opened its online polls, allowing its more than a billion users to vote on a several new proposals, including one about Facebook voting.

At issue is a lot of stuff about Facebook's Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR). But the part that has gotten the most attention is a proposed change to the "site governance process," doing away with a system that allows users to vote on changes.

The previous SRR states: "If more than 7,000 users post a substantive comment on a particular proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30 percent of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote."

The new version, on which Facebook users can now vote, removes the voting clause altogether.

"Many of you agreed that Facebook has outgrown the current system, which is no longer the most effective way to help people engage in our site governance process. Many supported our goal of facilitating direct discussions with you -- such as through the 'Ask Our Chief Privacy Officer' feature," Facebook wrote in an explanation of the changes.

Facebook actually points out that voter turnout has always been relatively low. In April 2009 about 665,000 votes were cast. Last June about 342,000 votes were cast. According to Facebook, neither reached the threshold for the vote to be binding.

"Some of you were concerned that by ending the vote mechanism, you were losing your ability to shape the policies that govern Facebook," Facebook adds in the explanation of the changes. "To be clear, our goal in modifying our site governance process is to make sure that we receive feedback from you in the best, most productive way possible so that we can be responsive to your input."

There are other issues. In the Data Use Policy, Facebook is also changing how it shares anonymous user data with its family of companies. Part of this change is to accommodate Facebook's acquisition of Instagram.

"Additionally, as many people know, we recently acquired Instagram. This provision covers Instagram and allows us to store Instagram's server logs and administrative records in a way that is more efficient than maintaining totally separate storage systems," Facebook said.

All Facebook users can vote now on these and other changes at https://apps.facebook.com/fbsitegovernance/. Users are presented with two choices -- the proposed documents and the existing documents. As of this writing, over 111,000 users had voted to keep the existing document; just over 10,000 voted for the proposed changes. For those looking for more details, Facebook has posted the entire proposed document here and highlighted what is new and old.

Voting will end on Dec. 10 at 12:00 p.m. PST. Better get to it -- it could be the last time you vote on Facebook.

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