Facebook news feed backlash reveals student privacy concerns

The Wall Street Journal (free) reports that students are “outraged” over two new features in Facebook called News Feed and Mini Feed. The features “track users’ actions on the site and then keep all of their friends apprised of those developments.” Students are angered that information that they thought was private became public overnight. This adds to the evidence that privacy is only mostly dead and not completely dead.

11 thoughts on “Facebook news feed backlash reveals student privacy concerns

  1. The ironic thing is that the info was all public before (mostly to friends) — FB just made it more transparent. For example, you log-in and you see your friend’s “relationship status has changed” you go to their page and the wall (or message board) is filled with sympathy comments. Or, you log in and see that your boyfriend/girlfriend has been posting comments on so-and-so’s page.

    In some ways FB has just helped to speed along the old rumor mill. While there is a lot negative attention right now, but the question is: will it blow over, will students close their accounts, or will FB revert to their ‘classic’ interface?

  2. Brian’s comments are correct, most of the information was already public, just not as obvious. In a way it is a nice feature, you can see when friends add pictures with out having to go to their page to see if they’ve added anything. Although part of this new feature shows you what one friend writes on another friend’s board. While you can go to the board and see it, I’m not sure if I like everyone seeing it. It’s almost like ease dropping. It seems in the Facebook community there is a lot of displeasure in the new set-up, but I don’t think it is enough for people to abandon Facebook. Hopefully Facebook will see the error of their ways and modify their current layout.

  3. Here’s what I still don’t get about all this. You put your information on Facebook so your friends can keep up with your doings. And then you get annoyed when the process of keeping up with “friends” is made easier.

    Maybe if I had a proflie I would understand the kerfuffle. But how private is this stuff anyway? If you’re upset that everyone immediately sees that pic you put up that shows you mooning out a car window – why put it on the web in the first place?

    And what are friends for? Don’t accept friends you don’t even know if you don’t actually want to share your stuff with them.

    In some ways, though, this could be a cautionary tale for libraries. As we rush toward being more interactive, will we be ready for it if our users feel they can redesign our website, our catalog, our services? Maybe that would be a good thing, but maybe not…

    And are they truly aware of how public such a read/write environment really is? And that once they let loose their thoughts – say, writing a book review that they later think is ill-considered – they may never get them back under their control?

  4. I am confident that this will blow over. To understand why students are so upset by the changes, you have to realize just how much of their identity is wrapped up in the Facebook.

    Let me give a hypothetical example. Let’s say I post some off-colored comment on the “wall” of my college friend. Under the “old” Facebook, my younger more conservative cousin (who I am also friends with) would have had to navigate to that particular friend’s page to discover my comment. Given that I have 200+ friends, it is unlikely that my cousin will see this comment. The way Facebook implemented the feeds, my cousin would be notified of my comment the second they logged into their dashboard. In effect, the new Facebook has collected my different Facebook personalities/identities in one place. In so doing, I have lost control of my identity.

    I have written a post outlining these issues in more detail. To gain a deeper understanding of the identity issues involved, I would also recommend checking out the links at the beginning of my post. At the end of my post I include a detailed discussion of what lessons we can learn from this episode when implementing Library 2.0

    On Facebook, identity, and Control ,or, The Central Problem of Library 2.0: Identity

  5. I agree that while young people are posting pics and information about themselves on this web site already, they are kind of giving up their right to privacy as it is. The fact this information was already available means something but obviously the majority of users were not utilizing it and most likely didn’t even know this information existed. And while I agree that the people are “friends” of the user that still does not mean they want everything to be shared with them. Pics are posted to be looked at, comments are left on walls to be looked at but private messeges or even viewing someone else’s page is not something everyone needs to know about…..that is why they have private messeges, right?

  6. Thanks – I think the “identity” concept is key – and the idea that comments you post elswhere are being aggregated is much more problematic than feeding what you put on your own page. Definitely pulls together conversations that have little to do with each other and could be unsettling.

    Though I’m also unsettled by the idea that aggregating friends is an end in itself – “look how popular I am!” with people I don’t know or keep up with. Seems to feed the usual youthful angst about fitting in and being popular.

    Did you catch the piece in the Chron about judging roommates by their Facebook? Talk about identity issues!

  7. In Facebook there are arguments to be made that the collecting of friends isn’t an end in itself. Fred Stutzman, a Facebook researcher at UNC explains how Facebook is “Situationally Relevant” to incoming students needs. Incidentally, the roommate issue factors into his discussion. It is also worth mentioning that students use Facebook for academic purposes. I have spoken to quite a few that find it a much more reliable method for connecting with fellow students than Blackboard. Basically, Facebook is largely successful because of the value its features add to the core social networking feature. If interested Fred has a second theory on this called the “Network Effect Multiplier” that you can read about on his site.

    Fred’s theory of “situational relevance”:
    http://chimprawk.blogspot.com/2006/01/situational-relevance-in-social.html

  8. I knew that FB would have to do something. Here is a public snip from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder:

    “This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about.”

  9. I do think that students are upset over what they perceive is private and not private. One student was expressing dismay over this yesterday, and myself and another librarian mentioned to him that these were actions that are always there, and his response was “well, but before you had to LOOK for it.” When we mentioned that it was “big brotherish” or did he have an issue with being surveilled, he didn’t even respond to that. So, I think that it boils down to perceptions of privacy–which is the same phenomenom that allows them to post photographs of questionable activities and be shocked when a potential employer or parent finds them. Obviously, that which you have to look for on the web is hidden and hence private.

  10. Here are some things I have noticed in the new (well sort of old now) FB:

    1 Not only would it tell you when a friend posted on another friends wall, it would tell you what they posted
    2 It would tell you when friends joined groups
    3 It would tell you when friends became friends with other people

    These are things that you can find out, if you look, but how many people search all their friends profiles every day to see who made a new friend. I have seen some people on their with hundreds of friends, this task would take an extremely long time to complete.

    Features like when a friend adds photos or changes their profile are a less of a concern to let people know about, because you add these things with the intention of sharing them.

    In a way it comes down to if you don’t want people to see, then don’t post it.

    I find a much bigger issue going on here, and it gives me a lot of respect for FB and what they are trying to do. They decided to make a change to their website, with good intentions, and unfortunately it back fired, their customers were upset. Mark Zuckerberg went into a chat format with the users of FB to discuss their concerns and how they can change it. He listened to the people who drive his site and made appropriate changes. It makes the site seem safer for the students that are using it, that the creators do have their safety and best interest in mind.

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