Facebook followers found themselves in familiar territory earlier this month, attempting to make sense of a broad batch of procedural changes with an array of potential consequences for user privacy. The social network has moved quickly in response to this commotion, issuing somewhat of an ultimatum on user voting privileges before unveiling a new slate of privacy feature fixes.
As site subscribers and tech experts begin to digest these developments, it seems unclear whether the latest privacy update will move the conversation forward or simply splinter debates into different directions.
The vote is out
When Facebook first allowed users to vote on the direction of site updates, the standard for consensus was set at 30 percent turnout and majority decision. As membership swelled past 1 billion, the democratic mechanism has lost a bit of its utility. Facebook had planned to eliminate voting altogether in favor of a establishing a more substantial feedback loop, but officials decided to give users one last chance to save the practice by casting a ballot in its favor.
Polls were open for one week, with the tally held to the same 30 percent standard as before. According to the Los Angeles Times, fewer than 670,000 users submitted a vote. That represents much less than one-tenth of a percent of a (conservatively estimated) 1 billion active site visitors.
As promised, Facebook has now retired its user voting process once and for all after an independent auditor confirmed the final count. Yet even among the limited number of voters, the roots of discontent were clearly represented. According to the LA Times, nearly 9 in 10 ballots cast were against the social network's proposed changes. And lost in this discussion was the fact that language enabling Facebook to extend its affiliate data sharing capabilities and advertising ambitions was also installed as a result of the referendum.
Company officials attempted to engage disheartened voters immediately after the decision, insisting the users can and should still be an active participant in the site's future strategic direction. That rhetoric could soon be put to the test, as Facebook wasted no time in unveiling the latest iteration of a retooled privacy framework.
A simpler system?
As adoption and participation rates continue to grow, retaining a sense of simplicity is no easy task. But in its latest set of privacy updates, Facebook is at least attempting to pursue that end.
"We continue to strive toward three main goals: bringing controls in context where you share, helping you understand what appears where as you use Facebook and providing tools to help you act on content you don't like," product director Samuel Lessin wrote in a company blog post.
The most important addition in this wave of updates is a new control interface called Privacy Shortcuts. According to The New York Times, this feature provides users with a concrete set of contextually dependent options that help them regulate who can view their profiles and posted content, who can get in contact with them and how they can avoid unsolicited or unwanted communications.
In response to controversy and confusion surrounding the (newly-defaulted) Timeline profile interface, Facebook has also updated its Activity Log feature. While users retain the ability to hide or remove content appearing on their profile, corresponding content and comments posted by others has been given viewing priority so users can quickly identify, accept or reject changes made. Additionally, any application offering Timeline integration features will have to list the information it intends to share prior to installation.
However, underlying these improvements is a potentially controversial move that eliminates a user's ability to hide themselves from Facebook search results – a formerly popular privacy mechanism. And with more features seeming to go from "opt-out" to "opt-in" with each successive update, it may be difficult for the common user to identify and interpret changes as they are installed.
Data Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro