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Facebook to share data, slacken contact privacy

Proposals floated to merge user info with Instagram and revamp message control

Facebook to share data, slacken contact privacy
The proposals may be subject to a vote, which will only be binding if 30% of users take part.

Facebook Inc yesterday announced its intention to merge its user data with that of recently acquired photo-sharing service Instagram and to abandon its "Who can send you Facebook messages" control in favour of a new filtering system for incoming messages, Reuters reported.

The social media giant is also planning to get rid of the voting facility that allows account holders to give verdicts on network policies and service terms and conditions.

Facebook, which supports a user base of around 1 billion, also raised the possibility of sharing information across all of its affiliates, including Instagram, which it acquired in October for roughly $715 million.

Google made a similar move in January to unify its user data across its service platforms and immediately incurred the comments of privacy advocates and regulators, including a letter from 36 US state attorney generals that expressed concern for the centralisation of so much personal information as it would likely form a tempting target for identity thieves.

Both Google and Facebook field arguments for their unification plans that cite greater customisation options and service improvement, but users may not be convinced. Facebook, still bound by its current terms of service will face a community vote if its proposals generate more than 7,000 public comments in the coming week, but the referendum results will be binding only if 30% of users take part. According to Reuters, two previous polls failed to reach that number of participants.

Facebook yesterday sought to scrap the voting system, claiming it did not function as intended and had lost relevance in the wake of the company's going public and being subject to regulatory oversight and shareholder approval.

"We found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivised the quantity of comments over their quality," Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, blogged yesterday.

Alternatives being considered include an "Ask the Chief Privacy Officer" question-and-answer forum and live webcasts about privacy, safety and security.

When asked about the proposed changes to message filtering, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company carefully monitors user interaction and feedback to find ways to enhance the user experience.

"We are working on updates to Facebook Messages and have made this change in our Data Use Policy in order to allow for improvements to the product," Noyes said.

In April Facebook settled a privacy probe conducted by the US Federal Trade Commission over allegations that Facebook had duped account holders into divulging personal information that they had not intended sharing. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.

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