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Facebook (almost) gets it right!

This week’s announcement by Facebook that they are restructuring their Groups feature to encourage more privacy is a welcome move. As The Tech Dad wrote on Wednesday,  Groups will now allow users to organize their friends the way they do in real life – close friends, family, work colleagues, casual acquaintances, or any other grouping that makes sense for a particular individual.

Although members could previously use the Lists feature to accomplish much the same thing, Groups is easier to set up and requires very little maintenance. Want to share photos of the kids with just the family? Just create a closed family group, add the people you want, and start sharing.

Facebook gives lots of other examples of potential groups: your fantasy football team, your book club, your soccer team. The list is endless. In fact, with the addition of Groups, sharing information on Facebook can start to mirror real life – you only share on a need-to-know or want-to-know basis.

A couple of other features make Groups even more attractive. One of them is group chat. Until now, you were only able to chat with one person at a time on Facebook. Now you can chat with everyone in your group at once. You can also set up a group e-mail list, so members can keep in touch when they’re not on Facebook.

Of course, being Facebook there had to be a glitch. The ink was hardly dry on the press release before it was discovered that apparently anyone can set up a group and “tag” anyone else as a member. They don’t even have to be a friend – as long as the group is “open”, they just need to be added in.

This made headlines when the blogger and founder of Maholo.com, Jason Calacanis, discovered that he had been co-opted into a group called NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association). According to Calacanis, he was never asked if he wanted to join the group, and wasn’t informed when, in his words, he was “force-joined.”

Obviously, this can have serious implications, not just for people’s reputations but also in terms of spam and unwanted messages. If you can co-opt anyone into any group, what is to stop you building a database of tens of thousands of random members?

As it always does, Facebook will weather the storm and put together a fix which will head off any serious revolt. In fact, the more Mr. Zuckerberg  and company stumble along, the more the membership grows. People seem to realize that Facebook is not a perfect world, but then neither is the real one!      

Comment by geekbabe, posted 10/14/2010, 9:04 PM:

IMHO Facebook doesn't do anything by "accident" what do you think would happen to the average office worker, teacher if what happened to Jason happens to them? Mr. Zuckerberg has made his POV on the subject of online privacy very clear. Given the ever increasing number of college admissions boards, employers etc who screen applicants Facebook pages, this incident is very serious indeed.
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