Facebook Groups Default to Opt In: Is It a Privacy Problem?

Lora Bentley
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If Facebook can remember these five facts about user privacy, its headaches might begin to fade.

CIO.com reported last week that Facebook's revamped Groups service has privacy advocates concerned.

 

(And? When has a Facebook release not aroused concern from privacy advocates? The latter would be a bigger story. But I digress.)

 

Once again the problem stems from the auto opt-in that's set as the default for Facebook Groups. Users can add their friends to groups without their friends' knowledge, let alone their permission. Take for example the prank TechCrunch's Michael Arrington played on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Because Zuckerberg is Arrington's Facebook friend, Arrington was able to add Zuckerberg to a North American Man/Boy Love Association group without giving Zuckerberg a heads-up first.

 

According to Arrington, Zuckerberg unsubscribed from the group, which simultaneously rendered Arrington unable to add him to any other groups. Interestingly, though, a Facebook spokesperson recommended more drastic action in the CIO.com story. She wrote:

If you have a friend that is adding you to groups you do not want to belong to, or they are behaving in a way that bothers you, you can tell them to stop doing it, block them or remove them as a friend-and they will no longer ever have the ability to add you to any group.


The problem apparently is not that friends can add users to groups; it's that friends can add users to groups without "inviting" them or giving them the opportunity to approve the group membership first. Google got all kinds of grief for this very thing when Buzz was released in beta. You'd think Facebook would see the problem. But if the screen captures in Arrington's TechCrunch piece are any indication, it doesn't see it. The only comment Zuckerberg made (publicly, anyway) about the prank was this one-complete with a smiling emoticon:

That's why it's easy to leave groups.

How about making it even easier on users and not grouping them unless they approve of the idea beforehand?



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