Facebook flap leads to changes
Online hangout Facebook has agreed to let people turn off a new feature that drew privacy complaints because it lets others easily see changes made to personal profile pages.
"We really messed this one up," Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said in an open letter to users.
The backlash came over Facebook's Sept. 5 decision to deliver automated, customized alerts about a user's closest friends, classmates and colleagues. Users who log on might instantly find out that someone they know has joined a new social group, posted more photos or begun dating their best friend.
All of the information presented had been available before, but a person had to visit a friend's profile page and make note of any changes — for example, noticing that the friend now has 103 friends instead of 102, and identifying which one got added.
The feature was meant to help users save time. Instead, Facebook saw thousands of users joining protest groups on the site and signing online petitions. A web journal was even set up calling for users to boycott the site Tuesday this week.
The boycott has been called off, as was a protest scheduled for Monday outside the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
"We think it's a good compromise," said Facebook user Igor Hiller, 17, a University of California, Santa Barbara, freshman who had organized Monday's protest. "We're happy with what they've done."
Zuckerberg told the Associated Press last week that Facebook was working on giving users additional privacy options. The safeguards let users block feeds from entire categories — such as changes to the groups they belong to — while still allowing people to observe such changes by visiting the profile page.
The options were started Friday and essentially let users block all types of feeds if they want.
"This was a big mistake on our part, and I'm sorry for it," Zuckerberg wrote users after the changes were made public. "But apologizing isn't enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding non-stop for two days to get you better privacy controls."
Facebook has long prided itself on privacy.
A user's profile details, including contact information, relationship status and hobbies, are generally hidden from others unless they are already part of that user's network of friends or institution, such as a college.
In addition, users have the option of hiding specific details from certain users, even ones already designated as friends — choosing, for instance, to show photos to college buddies but not to co-workers.
To join, one must prove membership in an existing network using an e-mail address from a college, a high school or selected companies and organizations. As a result, Facebook has fewer than 10 million registered users, compared with some 108 million at News Corp.'s MySpace.