Students question privacy on Facebook quot;News Feedquot;

by Beacon Staff • September 13, 2006

The sophomore marketing communications major had just logged onto the popular social networking Web site Facebook.com and noticed it looked different.,Standing in front of a computer on the second floor of the Little Building last Friday, Vasudha Verma was confused.

The sophomore marketing communications major had just logged onto the popular social networking Web site Facebook.com and noticed it looked different.

A new tool, known as the "News Feed," is now situated on her welcome page, where it highlights happenings in her social circle.

A second tool, the "Mini-Feed" sits in a box on every users profile and displays his or her activity on the website for the past couple of weeks.

Ruchi Sanghvei, Facebook's project manager for the feeds, first introduced the website's users to the service through a message posted on the site's official blog.

"Now, whenever you log in, you'll get the latest headlines generated by your friends and social groups," Sanghvei wrote. "So you'll know when Mark adds Brittney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again."

But Verma, who is still discovering what the feature actually does, said she is a little creeped out.

"This takes stalking to a whole new level," she said. "Some of the people I am friends with [on Facebook] I don't even know."

Since the Feeds were launched September 5th, more than 350 Emerson students have joined the Facebook group "Student's Against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)," which currently has nearly 740,000 members from colleges and universities around the globe.

Other groups were trying to set a date to boycott the website in order to protest the recent changes.

Shortly after the Feed's launch, another website, autoadmit.com, a college, graduate and law school discussion board, watched a downloadable program called Facebook News Feed Killer, which promises to remove the News Feed and Mini-Feed from a user's homepage and profile.

Mark Zuckerberg, president and owner of Facebook who created the website from his Harvard University dorm room, admitted his company had made a mistake. Last Friday, he sent an apology to all users and updated privacy controls so that users can disable the feeds.

"When I made Facebook two years ago, my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better," Zuckerberg wrote in his apology. "Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed, and we didn't build the proper privacy controls right away. This was big mistake on our part, and I am sorry for it."

Annalise Clint, a junior marketing communications major who joined multiple anti-News Feed groups, said she is very excited Facebook added the new controls.

"A lot of my friends on Facebook are more like acquaintances," she said. "I don't turn down friend request."

That might illustrate one problem explaining why so many students are starting to feel uncomfortable about their lives being constantly updated to people that they barely even know, according to Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the PEW Internet and American Life Project.

"The term 'friend' on Facebook and other [online] networks is one-dimensional," she said. "In general, relationships are much more complicated. Facebook assumed that everybody has the same level of friendship."

Until the new update, Lenhart said Facebook felt like more of a safer place than many online networking websites because it is a gated community requiring all users to have an e-mail address affiliated high school, college or university or company.

In a press release sent last Friday, Facebook spokesperson Brandee Barker said privacy is still a top priority for the company, which has over 9,000,000 registered users and is the 7th most visited website online, according to ComScore's MediaMetrix report.

Still, Dean of Students Ronald Ludman said students should be careful with what kind of information they post in their profiles.

"Student's should be thoughtful as to what they choice to share in what is a very public and accessible arena," Ludman said in a e-mail to the Beacon. "Posting personally identifying information can aid someone's ill intentions to steal one's identity, and posting compromising statements and or photos can be embarrassing and negatively impact one's impression with a potential employer."

Other student's are a bit apathetic about the new updates.

Phil Primeau, a freshman political communication major, said he does not care about the Feeds.

"My life isn't based around The Facebook," he said jokingly, admitting he views the website a couple of times a day.