Facebook could potentially be courting yet more controversy as it has revealed it now wants to share user data across its businesses.

In a blog post, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP of communications and marketing, said it was proposing some updates to its Data Use Policy, which explains how Facebook collects and uses data when people use the site, and its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR), which covers the social network’s terms of use.

However, the proposed data usage change was revealed in a separate and rather weighty document.

“Sometimes we get data from our affiliates or our advertising partners, customers and other third parties that helps us (or them) deliver ads, understand online activity, and generally make Facebook better,” it said. “For example, an advertiser may tell us information about you (like how you responded to an ad on Facebook or on another site) in order to measure the effectiveness of – and improve the quality of – ads.”

In essence, the change would allow Facebook to share users’ details with its other businesses, including Instagram, the popular photo-sharing app that Facebook acquired back in April for $1 billion (£630m).

Facebook said that the changes would allow it to build a more complete profile of its users, and will most likely help target ads better.

Voting change

And Facebook also revealed another potentially controversial change when it proposed ditching its existing process which allowed users to vote on changes to its policies and terms of service.

Under the existing rules, if 7,000 comments were made on a proposed change to the site’s service this triggered a vote by users who could vote down new policies. But Facebook feels that with its huge membership  this process is no longer suitable. It proposes replacing voting with regular Q&As with the company’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan and webcasts about privacy and security.

“We are proposing to restructure our site governance process,” wrote Schrage. “In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made. However, 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. Therefore, we’re proposing to end the voting component of the process in favour of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement.”

Facebook transformation

The data policy changes come as Facebook itself undergoes a period of transformation.

Last month, Facebook announced that it had reached one billion people. But the recent addition of advertising to people’s news feeds has not been welcomed by all users. Facebook is also facing ongoing privacy concerns, in particular over issues such as user control over personal data and face recognition software.

Earlier this month it emerged Facebook was lobbying hard to influence European Commission policy makers on recent proposals to shake up data privacy laws across member states.

Facebook’s proposed changes are not unique. Google announced something similar in January when it revealed it was revising its various privacy policies and boiling them down to a single all-encompassing document.

That move didn’t sit well with privacy advocates, and its privacy policy changes have faced a probe by European regulators.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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