Saturday, October 9, 2010

Facebook's New Group Tools Should Be Opt-In

Facebook recently launced a new tool called Groups that enables users to create mini social networks within a Facebook user's list of friends. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the impetus for groups was to make communicating with your friends on Facebook more like talking with them in the real world."

Facebook Groups was created not to mimic real world communication but to better enable Facebook to monetize your personal data. Many Facebook users have hundreds of Facebook Friends. However, Facebook does not know what a user's true relationship is with each of its Facebook friends. A user's Facebook Friends may include: high school friends, college friends, graduate school friends, co-workers, family members, strangers, associates, significant others, ex-friends, ex-significant others, etc...

According to a recent PC Magazine article, a Facebook spokesperson stated "[w]e made the decision to allow Group members to add others to the Group in order to make the product simple, and because it resembles something we all understand: adding one of your contacts to an e-mail thread." An e-mail thread may be more analagous to unsolicited junk mail (snail or email) than a real group. In addition, opting-in instead of opting out would have made the product simple for users because opting out forces users to take steps that are not user friendly.

If Facebook wanted to make its new Groups feature mimic real world communication it would have enabled users to individually opt-into Groups instead of making users opt-out. Making users opt-out instead of opt-in has the potential to create some unintended legal issues for some of its users. For example, what if a boss or family member or friend reviews a Group page and found out you were a member of a Group that had some sort of stigma?

In my opinion, Facebook made groups opt-out instead of opt-in to better collect and then sell your personal data to marketers. Facebook is on a furious pace to monetize its users' data to demonstrate to prospective bidders for its future IPO Facebook's monetary potential. If Facebook cares about its users' privacy it will change its Group's feature to be opt-in instead of opt-out. When was the last time you had to opt-out of going to dinner with a real group of friends? To go out with a real group of friends you must opt-in. Therefore, I challenge Facebook to correct this major oversight to its new Group tool.

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

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