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Facebook Groups Criticized For No Opt In

Facebook erred in not giving people the option to decide in advance whether to join a group formed by friends, analyst says.
Facebook is being battered by critics who say the popular social network made a big mistake in failing to let people opt-in by default to its new feature that lets people form private groups around a particular interest.

The controversy reached a head on Thursday when a person created a group called NAMBLA, the name for a nefarious pro-pedophile organization, and started adding friends. In a separate incident, Facebook last month started removing pages that referred to the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

One of the person's added to the group was well-known tech blogger Michael Arrington, who in turn added Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser for security firm Sophos, reported on the company's blog.

While not actually from NAMBLA, the group was formed to make the point that Facebook was wrong in choosing to let people automatically add their "friends," and leaving it up to the added person to opt-out of the group.

Facebook did not respond Friday to an interview request in time for this writing. However, in its help center, the company compared being added to a group to being tagged in a photo. Only people's friends can tag them in a photo, and people can choose to remove the tag after the fact.

While Facebook uses the term "friends" to describe everyone in a person's network, the reality is the network can include many acquaintances who may choose to add others to groups they may not be interested in joining. However, for most Facebook users, it's unlikely they will be added to so many groups that opting out becomes a problem, Augie Ray, analyst for Forrester Research, said.

Ray believes Facebook was trying to improve communications on the network when it launched Groups Wednesday and set it up in a way that it thought would be beneficial to users. Nevertheless, opt in would have been the better choice.

"I think opt-in in general should be the default," Ray told InformationWeek. "If you don't use opt-in, then you have to have a very good reason."

Whether Facebook's choice was correct will depend on the reaction of the majority of its users. "They will find out if the preference of users is to opt in," Ray said.

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