Yesterday’s announcement of a new groups feature should have been a home run. We still expect this will be a big deal for the company. But in the short term, Facebook spoiled the announcement by shoving groups down its users throats in a way just about guaranteed to spook and anger many of them.
Here’s the problem:
Anyone can set up a Facebook group and add whomever they want unilaterally. If a group is set to be publicly visible, anyone who looks at that group’s page will see a list of “members” that may never have wanted anything to do with it. Immediately after the product went live, someone created a NAMBLA group and added Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington to it, presumably to demonstrate this problem with groups in as public a way as possible.
People are calling this another “privacy blunder” by Facebook, but, to be fair, there is absolutely no privacy issue here. No otherwise private information about you is made public by this feature.
But this is very poorly thought out, for two reasons. First, it creates opportunities for libelous pranks like the one pulled on Jason and Michael. This is a relatively minor problem: since your groups aren’t visible on your profile, no one will see that you are a member of one of these groups unless they happen to come across that group’s page. And it’s easy to remove yourself from any group you don’t want to be in. But this can definitely create some embarrassment.
Secondly, these groups will lead to people getting a lot of Facebook mail they don’t want to get. It’s always been possible for people to spam you on Facebook, but a feature that lets you add anyone you want to what amounts to a massive mailing list positively encourages spamming.
This could have been avoided very, very easily. Instead of letting users add people to groups, Facebook should have let them invite people to them. Users would be notified, just as they are of friend requests. They would probably accept most of these invitations blindly anyway, but they would have the option not to.
It’s not a complicated concept, Facebook. Learn about it.
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