New Facebook Feature Has Users Seeing Red

It is difficult to imagine the users of social networking site Facebook becoming protective about content they post on the Internet. After all, its user base is mostly Gen Y consumers who have grown up surfing the Web and think little of posting pictures of themselves or keeping readers — both friends and strangers — up-to-date with just about every aspect of their lives.

Discontent with the wildly popular site, though, has quickly developed over a new feature Facebook just introduced that has startled many users with its real-time reach into their lives.

Time-Stamped Spy

Called “News Feed,” the feature automatically informs a user’s online friends every time a change has been made to the user’s profile. So when a friend logs on, he or she is presented with a time-stamped note — in itself a privacy violation, many users feel — about a profile change that can be as mundane as a new movie preference or as racey as — well, let’s just say that Facebook devotees are not known for their reticence in sharing personal information.

This feature, which cannot be turned off, has prompted groups to form in protest against it, many of them even on the Facebook site itself. Some groups have gone so far as to call for a one-day boycott of the site. Facebook has responded to these complaints, although as of this writing, it has not said whether it will terminate the new feature altogether or offer individual users a way to turn it off.”The privacy rules haven’t changed,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive said on the company’s blog. “None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes.”

Nothing Has Changed

Indeed, that is what is so ironic, said Russell Glass, VP of products and marketing at Zoom Information, a search engine that focuses on people and company search. “Nothing has really changed regarding privacy — anything that is posted online, even if it has been removed — is archived somewhere,” he told TechNewsWorld. “What users are coming to grips with is the fact that all this information they put online is now aggregated and made into a push feature. That is what is flipping users out.”

Yankee Group analyst Jennifer Simpson agreed that there are no new privacy implications for users with this feature. “The feeds themselves are pieces of information that are already publicly available,” she told TechNewsWorld.

That said, she added, if the protests continue, Facebook would be wise to make appropriate changes given that its business model is utterly dependent on users’ satisfaction with the service.

Few, though, expect this incident — however it is resolved — to be the demise of the site. For starters, Facebook has a monopoly on 85 percent of the college user base, noted Matt Booth, senior analyst with the Kelsey Group. “I think the only risk to Facebook in the near term is if it tries to expand outside of its traditional market,” he told TechNewsWorld.

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