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.

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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.

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