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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 01/18/2011

Facebook fake-outs: The address leak is just another in a series for the social networking site

By Melissa Bell
(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday before a long weekend -- an unusually good time to slide announcements past the media's sleepy nose -- Facebook announced it would allow developers to access users' telephone numbers and addresses.

For many users of Facebook, adding outside applications is part of the Facebook experience. You add Farmville, or Tarot Card reading, or a birthday tracker. Before the app can be downloaded, a box pops up, requesting access to certain parts of your account. In that box, a new option showed up over the weekend: "Access my contact information, current address and mobile phone number."

Despite the slow news weekend, users got wind of the change, and complaints started filing in. Then, just before the long weekend ended, at approximately 2:25 a.m. Tuesday morning, Facebook rescinded its decision, saying on its developers blog that the plan would be put on hold until changes could be made to ensure that people are "more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data/"

Facebook makes a change, users complain, Facebook reacts. It's become the norm in Facebook land. And yet we still keep going back, all 400 million of us.

Is it because of the effect these quick responses Facebook makes? Even though Facebook still plans to go ahead and share our numbers and addresses, even though they don't tell us what the changes will be, the response gives the effect of addressing concerns.

It could be, cynicism aside, a sign that the company is sensitive -- very sensitive -- to its users' concerns, fixes problems as they arise and helping users feel comfortable with those changes.

Or is it that the company knows we can't get enough of Farmville and we'll put up with any old PR flub to grow some virtual peas.

We decided to take a look back on a few Facebook's more interesting jukes:

The Goldman-Sachs switch
Technically, this was Goldman-Sachs decision all along, but it's tied up with Facebook, so it still makes the list. Right after the new year, Goldman Sachs made an announcement that it would be investing $500 million into Facebook, and allowing private clients to invest as well. To market watchers, it seemed like a smart move by Facebook to circumvent a initial public offering -- they could raise a lot of cash without having to report their earnings in public. Others, however, cried foul, saying the deal was shaky on the legality side. So, Goldman Sachs pulled its offer, banning U.S. customers from investing in the stock. Offshore accounts still get a crack at it, though.

Open Graph outrage
Last April, Facebook made a change so big, the U.S. Senate took notice. The Open Graph API allowed third-party sites (including The Washington Post) to access users Facebook friend lists, so as to show recommendations on the third-party sites. It made Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) petition the Federal Trade Commission to look into Facebook'ss privacy policy and caused a huge uproar with folks vowing to quit the site. The site moved forward with the plan and you can see the results in The Post Web site's Network News box, which has been accepted well by readers.

The News Feed fear
Way back in the dark ages of Facebook's young life, in 2006, the site launched a new feature, much to the horror of its members: News Feed. It allowed all the changes users made to show up on other people's News Feed page. Suddenly, if you broke up on the site, or befriended a new person, or changed any personal data, everyone else in your circle of friends would know. The idea seemed terrible to users, who declared on Facebook pages that all that private information should remain private. Facebook worked to calm fears, but stuck with the design. Today, the News Feed is one of the most popular features of the site.

The Beacon blow up
There has also been plenty of backtracking done by the company. If an idea really did flop, Facebook pulled it. The best known example was the Beacon feature, which shared information with third-party advertising sites. After a public backlash, led in large part by public interest group, Facebook tried a number of ways to smooth over the anger by adding more user control to the feature. The damage was done, though, and the site dropped the feature all together. The company had to settle a class-action lawsuit to the tune of $9.5 million.

There are plenty more examples, but this should give you an idea. Do the Facebook changes bother you? Should they? Or is it a massive site making small tweaks over time to accommodate its fast growth and huge size?

And let me know if I missed any really important Facebook fake-outs!

By Melissa Bell  | January 18, 2011; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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