29 April 2010

Connected Profiles and Facebook

Certain worrying changes have been announced by Facebook at its f8 developer conference last week. Basically, Facebook is going to introduce a 'Connection Profiles' functionality which means that the information found on your Facebook profile page (e.g. location, interests etc) will be linked to the corresponding pages on Facebook (e.g. if London is your location, you will be connected to the London page on Facebook). Users who choose not to use this functionality will be left with the situation where their profile page will remain empty. Basically, only information which is linked via the 'Connected Profile' functionality will appear on the profile page of the user.

Facebook justifies the introduction of this new functionality on the ground of offering users more connections options and in particular the option to make deeper connections to things which matter to Facebook users such as interests etc. The real reason of course is that it means that Facebook will have access to users` data in a more focussed way (i.e. linked to their interests) and hence can make more revenue through targeted advertising.

There are two main issues raised by the introduction of this new functionality. Firstly, it will be imposed as a default functionality (i.e. if you do not opt out then this will be the default setting of your account). This of course means that users have the burden of having to understand yet again another functionality and evaluate whether or not they want to use this. However as past research has shown, Facebook users tend not to change the default settings for different reasons (e.g. lack of awareness, extra burden of having a specific setting for each type of data etc). So users will be increasingly at risk as they might choose to keep this functionality as a default option without being aware that this means that their data is being furthered distributed across the network.

A second important problem is that of choice. Although users are being given the illusion of having the choice here to opt out of this new functionality, realistically speaking, there is not much choice. If you opt out of the new functionality, then your profile page will be blank.

According to a FAQ from Facebook's Help Center:

"If you don't want to connect to any Pages, the corresponding sections on your Profile will be empty. Connecting to Pages will now be the main way to express yourself on your profile, and you can always edit your profile to remove specific suggested Pages that you don't want to connect to."

This new functionality will be launched fairly soon. It has already been launched in some part of the US. It would be interesting to see how users will react to this new change and whether Facebook will be forced to backtrack due to users` reactions as it has done in the past in relation to the changes to its privacy settings.

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