Facebook 'Feeds' Online Privacy Debate

A seemingly innocent Web site redesign sparked a user privacy controversy Wednesday, with more than half a million users of the popular social networking site Facebook.com speaking out against new features.

As of 10 a.m. ET today, more than 744,045 people had taken to their keyboards to protest Daily Feed and Mini-Feed, two new products recently added to Facebook.com's interface, by joining a group entitled "Students Against Facebook Newsfeed."

The new features give users a blow-by-blow update of what their friends are doing -- such as relationship changes, locations, new pictures, posted messages and groups joined -- in a streaming news format.

The public's reaction has not been ignored.

Site founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a blog to the Web site under the title, "Calm down. Breathe. We hear you."

Concerns Over Privacy and Site Design

"Students Against Facebook Newsfeed" is the largest of the protest groups.

On online message boards, users have posted their various complaints about the site's new features.

Privacy concerns and poor site design have been the most popular of their gripes.

"You went a bit too far this time, facebook," the group's mission statement says. "Very few of us want everyone automatically knowing what we update. We want to feel just a LITTLE bit of privacy, even if it is facebook. News Feed is just too creepy, too stalker-esque, and a feature that has to go."

Others have complained in posts that the newsfeed exemplifies generational differences in privacy.

"Our generation in paticular [sic] has a habit of voluntarily giving up privacy -- livejournals, away messages, facebook, etc. -- that older generations find a bit disturbing. I know my parents don't get it at all," wrote user Alexandra Skorik on a Facebook discussion board.

Zuckerberg attempted to quell public fear over privacy in his blog statement issued a few hours after the site changes had taken place.

"The privacy rules haven't changed," he wrote. "None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn't see it before the changes."

The Protestors Will Not Be Denied

Zuckerberg's statement and previous e-mails between Facebook personnel and users have failed, however, to quiet the din.

"Students Against Facebook Newsfeed" continues to call on group members to sign an online petition against the new features and to complain to the Web site.

Independently, members of the group are urging a "Facebook Boycott" on Sept. 12 to protest the changes.

In a statement Thursday evening, a spokesperson from Facebook once again tried to reassure users and stand by its new features.

"Facebook gives people control over their information," the statement said. "Consistent with that, we have engineered new functionality that gives users additional controls in News Feed and Mini-Feed. This new functionality will go live tonight on the site."

Zuckerberg suggested in a posted comment that he should have anticipated the complaints, saying he and his staff "really messed this one up."

He maintained, however, that users' privacy would not be jeopardized.

"We have been coding nonstop for two days to bring you better privacy controls," said Zuckerberg in his open letter.

"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."

A Silver Lining to Controversy

Still, Zuckerberg and Facebook have received some support.

New groups such as "Students Against Students Against Facebook Newsfeed" have sprung up in support of the site and its founder.

Despite the torrent of negative user feedback, Zuckerberg is ultimately happy that his site was both the source and outlet for such controversy.

"This may sound silly, but I want to thank all of you who have written in and created groups and protested," he wrote. "Even though I wish I hadn't made so many of you angry, I am glad we got to hear you. And I am also glad that News Feed highlighted all these groups so people could find them and share their opinions with each other as well."