Sorry, those Facebook privacy notices you're posting on your wall are useless

Can you tell the cops to keep their mitts off your Facebook page? Is Facebook really asking you to vote on its new privacy policy? Read on for the answers.

In today’s episode of Social Media Mythbusters, we tackle the issue of Facebook and privacy. So let’s get busting. Stop me if you've heard either of these myths recently:

1. You can post a notice on your Facebook page to tell government agents and/or the police to sod off, and they have to obey it.

2. Facebook is asking its users to vote for or against its new privacy policy.

To quote the late Richard Dawson: "Survey says...." Nope. Sorry, neither is true. 

First, the “Facebook Privacy Notice” making the rounds today is bogus. It reads in part:

PRIVACY NOTICE: Warning - any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/or the comments made about my photos or any other "picture" art posted on my profile.

Right. And if you post the same notice on your front door, the cops can’t bust in and have you arrested, no matter what you might be up to. In both scenarios, a properly executed court order is all it would take to put you in cuffs or have a G-man poring over your Likes.

The bogus notice goes on to suggest now that Facebook is a publicly traded company, its privacy rules have changed. This is also not true. The IPO does nothing to change any of Facebook’s terms, though it does put Facebook under significantly greater public pressure to generate profits (which means it could ultimately affect Facebook’s terms).

What is true is that this bogus notice is circulating at the same time Facebook is holding an open vote about changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) and to its Data Use Policy (DUP). That is what used to be called Facebook’s privacy policy; they changed the name in September 2011 to better reflect how Facebook treats all of our data. (Privacy? Feh.)

A few weeks ago, Facebook proposed changing some of the language in its SRR and DUP to make its policies more explicit – presumably spurred by the coming IPO. The most substantive changes: Facebook said it would retain data received from advertisers “for as long as necessary” instead of discarding it after 180 days; and it opened up the possibility for Facebook to use your data to serve ads on third-party sites – essentially taking Google head on across the Web.

At the same time, Facebook also said if the blog post announcing the changes received at least 7,000 comments, it would put the proposed new language up for a vote among all 900 million Facebook members.

Why 7,000, exactly? That’s between Zuckerberg and his God.

Still, it seemed like a safe bet not to happen. But then some European privacy advocates decided to rock the vote. So the same people behind Europe v. Facebook asked its supporters to comment on the blog post in an effort to reach the required minimum – and it worked.

The Europe v. Facebook folks are the ones responsible for forcing Facebook to reveal the amazing trove of information it maintains about its European subscribers – well beyond the piddling bits Facebook lets you download via your General Account Settings page. Some of the redacted data reports run to over 1000 pages. Of course, if you’re an American user of Facebook who wants to see this data, you’re screwed – without EU-style privacy laws, Facebook is under no obligation to share this data with you.

So Facebook said, OK, let’s have a vote. From June 1 to June 8, Facebook users can choose between the new language or the old language. But for the vote to be binding, Facebook says at least 30 percent of its active registered users need to weigh in. For those keeping score at home, that’s 270 million, give or take. Otherwise, it will consider the vote as “advisory” but nonbinding.

For point of comparison, the largest turnout in US election history was 133 million in 2008, or just a hair over 57 percent of the voting age population.

It’s a bit like thinking you’re voting for president, only to find out you’re just voting to decide whether to change the color of the drapes in the Oval Office. And unless 100 million Americans participate, they’ll redecorate the place any damned way they please.

As I write this, the vote stands 28,084 for the new language, 130,998 against. So it doesn’t look like this one is going to be a nail biter – or, really, count for anything at all.

Meanwhile, the Euro v FB folks have created their own site, called Our-Policy, in which they lay out the changes they’d like to see made to Facebook’s Don’t-Call-It-A-Privacy-Policy. Among those are things like:

* A site-wide opt-in for sharing, instead of the current opt-out.

* Full access to all data Facebook stores about its users, delivered within 40 days upon request.

* Clear explanations of what Facebook does with its data and its cookies.

* Limits on the use of data for delivering ads.

* Easier ways to delete all or some of our Facebook data.

Admirable goals, all of them. But the odds of Facebook ever adopting them, let alone putting them to a vote? About as likely as a cop obeying the “Keep Out” sign on your door when he’s got a warrant in his back pocket.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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