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Facebook's news: data downloading, new friend groups, more app oversight

We can all breathe a sigh of relief, as Facebook did not introduce yet another site redesign today. Instead, the Palo Alto, Calif., social network led off its announcements with something far more useful -- an option to take your data with you.

facebook_groups_icon.png

Company founder Mark Zuckerberg's blog post lays out what you'll be able to download as this option rolls out:

"..we've built an easy way to quickly download to your computer everything you've ever posted on Facebook and all your correspondences with friends: your messages, Wall posts, photos, status updates and profile information."

After you pass some security checks, you'll get a compressed .zip file on your desktop, which you can extract to peruse its contents in a Web browser.

This is an enormously important change for Facebook and its users. It ensures that the communication that we have downloaded remains our property and free for our reuse. If I decide to write my memoirs 20 or 30 years from now, the updates I shared on Facebook may be as important as the e-mails I archive and the paper letters I stuff in a box.

This change -- which seems somewhat modeled after Google's worthy "data liberation" efforts -- also shows a fundamental respect for users. It should be axiomatic that when you put data in, you should be able to get it out, but too many Web services, and disk-based programs, fail to include an "export" function.

(Now that I've paid all those compliments to Facebook, remember our conflicts of interest: Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors, while the newspaper and many on the Post staff, myself included, use the site for marketing purposes.)

The second-most important shift at Facebook is a new Groups feature, rolling out over the next few days. This is an alternative to the largely ignored Friends List feature, which Zuckerberg said in his presentation has been used by only 5 percent of Facebook clients. "Nobody wants to make lists," he opined.

Groups let you farm out the work of list-making to your friends: Once you create a group, the members of it can add other people. Groups are "closed" by default (your membership in one is visible to friends, but not the content shared within it), but you can make them open or "secret," with even your membership concealed (as in, the first rule of this Facebook Group is that you do not talk about this Facebook Group). You can then share updates, pictures and video; work together on notes; and chat in real-time with all or part of the group.

Facebook's older groups option -- long the favorite vehicle for users to kvetch about new site features or policies -- will continue to be available, but it won't benefit from such new features as group chatting. The site now suggests that you set up a public page for larger virtual gatherings and congregations.

But Groups might not be all collaborative, clubby goodness. At their worst, they could combine the run-on chattiness of an e-mail thread among friends with the privacy issues you fear when friends tag you in photos, video and notes. And since your friends can not only add you to groups (subject to your veto) but add pals to the groups you create, they could get a little spammy over time.

Facebook's third feature is a new dashboard to monitor the applications you've added to your profile. Zuckerberg's blog post explains:

"You can also see in detail when they last accessed your data. You can change the settings for an application to make less information available to it, or you can even remove it completely."

That seems useful, too. But it's not nearly as important as Facebook making the concept of "you own your data" more than a well-meaning line in a user agreement.

What's your read on the news? Do you trust Facebook more or less as a result?

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 6, 2010; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture, Privacy, Social media  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Facebook event: Fact-free speculation?
Next: Almost-final, much weaker ACTA draft published

Comments

You didn't say whether the data you download is actually deleted, or if you just get a copy. It seems the point would be to delete it as well, but that was not specifically mentioned by Zuckerberg in the quote, or by you.

And you know what they say about assuming.

Posted by: tojo45 | October 6, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I've had leaving facebook, and whether your data can be removed when you do, on my mind. If migrating your data is the purpose, then good, but still not good for those of us who might want to be able to know that what we've posted is also gone when we deactivate the account.

Posted by: tojo45 | October 6, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Most important for me is to own the list of my friends. That way, I can port to the app that coordinates all my social networks -- FB, MySpace, the Googe thing, and whatever else. I can use the interface I like best, and all my friends can use the interfaces they like best, and every advertiser in the world can still target my computer screen with discounts on exactly what I want to buy now.

Posted by: blasmaic | October 6, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I haven't logged on to Facebook in over a month, as I am dismayed by all the privacy setting nonsense.

I don't get the groups/list thing. I mean, I think you explain it well, I just don't want to expend the mental energy to grasp it.

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Posted by: 1561705755 | October 6, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I got excited because according your article it would appear that I could download and subsequently delete my information from Facebook. However, according to Zuckerberg's blogpost it seems that I only receive a copy of said information.

Since I deleted my profile anyway (not deactivated, deleted) I wouldn't be able to recover my information. So all of my messages, photos, wall posts and everything else will eventually be sold to the highest bidder someday or leaked when their servers are compromised.

Got to love it.

Posted by: JoeBrones | October 6, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

check this out ... the problem discussed here... http://manishmideas.blogspot.com/

Posted by: crossbizz | October 6, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

@ JoeBrones... your profile is not deleted despite what you think. All the data is still there. It would take a court order to see it tho.

per the article: Zuckerpunk thinks he OWNS our data. THAT is a problem and it needs to be settled by a court!

STOP giving facebook publicity until they start complying to the privacy laws!

Posted by: darbyohara | October 7, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

While all the other new features on FB seem to be something that should be standard and overdue. I question whether Fb Groups is the solution to Facebooks problem. Facebook is no longer exclusive. Which will eventually lead to its loss of coolness.
Facebook Has Groups…Trying to be Exclusive Again
http://tweakyourlife.com/127/facebook-groups-trying-to-be-exclusive-again/

This article explains why fb needed to create the Groups feature. How they have lost touch over the years because of their growth & how people are using the service different. also because of who is using the service. I guess my question/concern is...is the groups enough? Or is it too late for FB and have they reached there peak in popularity?

Posted by: malakai015 | October 7, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Not only do you have to assume that your posts etc are still "there" and archived by F'book forever, you should in fact assume that EVERYTHING you have EVER posted ANYWHERE may very likely be archived someplace. Including email and anything else. And including that it may have been copied or otherwise picked up by who knows while it was posted.

Years ago we used to assume that "we" were far enough "under the radar" that nobody would bother saving all that stuff; memory was expensive, and in any case, who would go searching forever to look for it? Flash forward: memory is dirt cheap, search engines are powerful, and who knows who may have taken an interest in your email or the obscure place where you posted something.

I do have a Facebook account, mostly to keep track of my kids, but I rarely post anything and if I do it is innocuous polite chit-chat.

Best to assume your life is an open book to somebody somewhere, and get used to it.

And BTW you won't find me interested in "cloud computing" either.

Posted by: icyone | October 7, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

To those who wonder whether their info leaves or remains with Facebook if they download their file or delete their profile: it's Facebook's property. It stays.

The internet never forgets.

Be careful what you put online.

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Posted by: Bitter_Bill | October 7, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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