As summarised nicely in this article at Techdirt, Facebook continued its ongoing program of development with some rather extreme changes this week.
The new bizarrely-named 'Feed' (which has nothing to do with RSS or Atom or XML at all) is the replacement of the default "you've just signed in" homepage, which lists every move/edit/action taken by your friends in recent days. This includes new wallposts (profile comments), added photos, information added/removed from their profile and newly created friendships.
For example, in the past someone might have changed their "Relationship Status" from 'In A Relationship' to 'Single' and no-one would really have noticed that it changed. Sure you could see that it was now 'Single', but you'd have to be looking for it to know that it had changed.
Now, your name will show up on all your friends' Feeds as "Tom is now single".
Understandably, this has freaked a lot of people out, with 532,000 members in the group entitled "Students against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)". By comparison, self-titled and possibly previously accurate "The biggest Facebook group ever" has only 218,000 members, and has been in existence for months. The petition group was started just days ago.
Privacy violation? Or just better bait for Big Brother behaviour?
A common defense of the new features, heard in reply to every correspondence to the Facebook team, is that no more information is given out than was previously available. Some over-zealous Facebook users have been naming Facebook "stalker-friendly" and crying "privacy violation" which is not technically true, as indeed there is no more information being released than is provided by the user and individual Feed items are only visible to people who already have access to the relevant profile.
But everyone seems to be forgetting that, in the information age it's not just what data you publish, it's how you publish it.
Whereas before, things like photo additions and status changes could be tracked by a friend with a piece of paper, they weren't announced. Now a user's every move is listed in a chronological fashion, and this is scary. Whether you're the sort of person who accepts change easily, or not.
Still, at least before the story finally started to do the blogosphere rounds this morning, the Facebook staff were keen to tell complaining site users that they were wrong.
We think, however, that once you become familiar with the new layout and features, you will find these changes just as useful as past improvements such as Photos, Groups, and the Wall.(by email correspondence)
Ignoring for a moment how frustrating it is to be told how we will think in time, it's a widely held belief this week that no matter what Facebook's opinion, it's the customers' immediate needs that should be met: especially with Facebook making a bucket off advertising deals, fueled solely by the loyalty and/or addiction of the core users.
Meanwhile, a huge outcry ensues, with people removing themselves from various Groups and streamlining their profiles to thin out the information advertised. Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise that people are being forced to realise how easy it is to learn everything about your life from your Facebook profile.
After all, the Feed just automates what could already be done manually, and although maybe it should be retired as "too stalker friendly", there was never anything to stop people gawking through friends' profiles anyway: especially when many users add as friends mere acquaintances or people who live in the same residence, and when the privacy settings are largely opt-in rather than opt-out.
Maybe this is the kick in the head that Facebook users need to remind them to be careful what they write online: because as we know, free speech online is an ever more dangerous thing.