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Facebook Scrambles to Appease Outraged Users

By Erika Morphy
Sep 11, 2006 3:03 PM PT

Surprised by a rapidly building revolt brewing among its normally loyal customers, social networking site Facebook has agreed to offer users privacy options with its news feed tool.

Facebook Scrambles to Appease Outraged Users

Introduced just last week, Facebook's news feed provides updates to members every time a change is made to a friend's profile. While it does not reveal any information that was previously unavailable, many members are objecting to the automatic time-stamped updates, especially as there is no manual override option. Groups quickly formed to protest the new feature, with one reportedly growing to 700,000 strong within days.

Friendster's Path

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who initially urged users to stay calm, reversed course and admitted having made a mistake. "We really messed this one up," Zuckerberg said in statement on the site. "We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them."

New settings on the news feed allow users to block information and to remove the posting time-stamps that indicate exactly when members are updating their sites.

By all accounts, Zuckerberg, a 22-year-old Harvard grad who launched Facebook two years ago, was surprised at the outcry. Perhaps he shouldn't have been. A few years ago Friendster -- when it was still considered au courant -- introduced a similar tool that allowed users to see who had been searching for and viewing their profile, noted Russell Glass, vice president of products and marketing of Zoom Information, a search engine that focuses on people and company search.

"Friendster received a lot of flak almost immediately from users about it," he told TechNewsWorld. "A lot of people hated it, and eventually Friendster did create a way for users to turn it off if they wanted." Coincidentally or not, around that time Friendster's popularity began to decline, he says.

Raising Awareness

It is unlikely that significant numbers of Facebook's 9.5 million users -- mostly high school and college students -- are going to abandon the network over this issue, said Matt Booth, senior analyst with the Kelsey Group. This is likely to be just a blip in Facebook's operations, he told TechNewsWorld.

The incident and its aftermath do suggest that the 20-something and younger demographic might have gained a little more appreciation for the privacy issues involved when personal details are posted online.

Many people who use Facebook, for example, are outraged when they find that outsiders -- such as potential employers -- also read the profiles, Zuckerberg said. "They don't want anyone outside of their peer group looking at the profiles. It is definitely a double standard."

NICE inContact February 12 webinar
How do you feel about government regulation of the U.S. tech industry?
Big tech companies are abusing their monopoly power and must be reined in.
Stronger regulations to protect consumer data definitely are needed.
Regulations stifle innovation and should be kept to the barest minimum.
Over-regulation could give China and other nations an unfair advantage.
Outdated antitrust laws should be updated prior to serious regulatory efforts.
Tech companies should regulate themselves to avoid government intervention.
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