Facebook Shanghaiing

There are lots of problematic things about the way Facebook is run, and many more serious than the one I’m going to complain about. For instance, Facebook is apparently letting your applications track your browser activity even after you sign off the site. It is being sued for essentially wiretapping its customers in this way.

But while I’m of course dismayed and incensed by that story, the thing I’m complaining about today is more of an annoyance that comes out of bad internet manners. Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues have set things up so that anyone on Facebook can create a “group,” and can sign you up to the group without asking your permission. You then get the discussions at the group by email, and if you want to opt out, you have to go to the group page and ask to be removed or adjust the settings so that you don’t get email from it.

This is horrible

It should never be the case that any company on the internet with groups should allow someone to be signed up all unawares. The default should always be that you actively join, not that you have to resign after being shanghaied in. Mr. Zuckerberg assures us that only friends can add us to a group, but if you have thousands of friends then that is not actually a relevant point. He also justifies the practice by pointing out that you can also be tagged in a photo against your will (I object to that, too, especially if the photo generates dozens of email messages).

This new feature could even be used against you to ruin your reputation. Let us say someone starts a racist Facebook group. And they sign you up for it. Your enemies could say, “Tim once belonged to ‘So-and-so Race is Pond Scum” on Facebook, a clear sign of bigotry.”

Here is a Facebook page protesting this new practice of Mr. Zuckerberg’s. It only has about 1500 ‘likes.’ Please, friends, let us increase that number substantially. Let us send a message to Facebook that this practice is completely unacceptable.

You could ask me why I even maintain a Facebook page. Well, you can no longer be in the blogging/ journalism/ public intellectual realm without it. Though the company does keep switching things around to make it less useful for those purposes. Most recently, they’ve set things up so that users have to “subscribe” so as reliably to see posts in their feed. So if you are a Facebook friend of mine and you signed up so that you would automatically see the blog postings, you have to go back now and “subscribe” to me all over again. The one good thing is that you can subscribe to Informed Comment posts without necessarily befriending me, if what you mainly want is to get the postings. Apparently this feature is designed to compete with Twitter. (My IC Twitter account is here, and has been much less trouble for me than has Facebook. People can also subscribe to IC by email.)

Actually I have four Facebook pages, because the service limits you to only 5000 friends. This number is more than enough for most people, but for those of us using it for bigger purposes it is tiny. This is the Facebook page of mine that currently has room for new friends. The first one filled up at 5000, the limit. But occasionally it falls to 4,999 and someone applies to it. But then it goes back up to 5000 and the software won’t let me add anyone. I don’t have a good quick way to tell the couple hundred applicants that it is full except writing them individually.

I made a fan page for Informed Comment, and it has about 4000 members. There is a question of how reliably the fans see the IC blog postings in their feed now. They probably have to subscribe again to it, too.

Facebook has been useful to me and I don’t mean only to slam it. It lets you keep up with people in a way that was impossible in the old days, and I’ve recovered friends from it. It has also sometimes helped a blog post of mine go viral. Though there is a real question as to how often people actually click to go to the article at my blog website, having seen it in the feed.

I made a little Facebook page for people I actually see in the flesh frequently, including family and friends. Again, there is no way to warn IC fans off it, so it gets applicants for whom it is not intended. Why not set the software up so that it is more user friendly? We’re not all Harvard undergraduates anymore.

More importantly, why not stop using this service to spy on us, and why not avoid violations of netiquette by making sure we’re asked about and assent to joining something, not just allowing us to be shanghaied?

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Responses | Print |

25 Responses

    • Social media are a good adjunct to blogging. The vast majority of people who visit a blog never come back. But if they join a Facebook page, they are more of a stable constituent for it. Facebook also allows me to reach out to fans when I travel. My fans in Sao Paulo arranged a university lecture for me when I was there, and did it in a day or two.

      It is undeniably useful. It just doesn’t have to disregard users’ rights so often.

      • Ditto to what you said Juan. Plus it is nice to find an old high school friend to share a new thought or two.

  1. Re – “You could ask me why I even maintain a Facebook page. Well, you can no longer be in the blogging/ journalism/ public intellectual realm without it.”

    Well… maybe that’s not a good thing. I realize it’s hard to fight The Man, which is what Zuckerberg’s multinational corporation effectively is in our webworld. But letting the powers-that-be win every battle without even putting up the semblance of a fight is not terribly admirable either.

    P.S. Thanks for not requiring a Facebook login for comment posting here.

    • Could I really have followed the Arab Spring without social media accounts?

      I don’t think the right response is to refuse to take advantage of something that connects 600 million people. It is to pressure corporations when they do the wrong thing.

      • Yes, you could have followed the arab spring without Facebook. Much of the activity was one twitter, which is a safer in terms of privacy. Additionally, many news aggregate websites had a great deal of information on the arab spring. In fact I got all of my news about it from Reddit rather than facebook or twitter.

        • We are all Khalid Said was a Facebook page. Twitter was less important inside Egypt.

  2. Greetings!
    Don’t forget that there is a way to hit Zuckerberg where it really hurts, while still staying on FB: install “AdBlock”, and most FB ads disappear. It used to be that AdBlock removed all ads, but FB has, it seems, managed to go around some of that and you do see some ads. Not all, but some. The cat-and-mouse game will continue as AdBlock developers will, I hope, find their way around it. Meanwhile, it removes a lot of Zuckerberg’s chances at more income. And as you know, income is why Zuckerberg is in this game, nothing else!!

  3. Just my two cents: The European Commission is conducting a program with the title “Indect”. It consists of a network of video cameras in public places, video drones, face recognition software and a module that searches the internet for similar pictures, especially social networks such as Facebook. A computer is to recognize “suspicious” behaviour, which then starts the overall process.

    This is the other sign to the coin.

  4. Obviously, you have to stay in the mainstream, which currently means Facebook. However, please consider Diaspora.

    Diaspora offers all the social networking tools, but is open source, so anyone can check the code for back doors and security violations. In addition, like email, any Diaspora server (called “pods”) can talk to any other Diaspora server, just as a gmail account can communicate with a Yahoo!Mail account. I am on diasp.org right now, but a user can join any pod.

    Finally, you can actually post to Facebook from your Diaspora account, and they provide a nice set of tools to do so.

  5. Keeping up with every one of FB’s “upgrades”, having to go back and re-do some (or all) of my settings each time, the fact that the feed linking FB to my blog(s) was never real-time, having to deal with duplicate comments to the same post (one on the blog itself, and the other on the blog’s FB page), the zero customer service value to FB (especially when passwords get lost/stolen), plus the various privacy issues that keep getting raised by FB’s technological misconduct, convinced me that FB is – as far as my purposes are concerned – more of a time waster than anything else, and a potentially harmful one at that, given its propensity for misuse. As a personal social networking tool, it is not necessary for me, and tended to duplicate what I was already doing through phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings, etc. I do not need FB, and I will be quite relieved if/when it and its other social networking counterparts go out of style.

  6. Install a new browser just for FB. Delete all FB cookies in
    your principal browser(s). FB spying should be impeded.

  7. I hate the changes to FB. I went to the site one morning & discovered that I had a large family….never mind that I didn’t know a single person on the list other than chatting with them at FB. One day I was receiving hundreds of posts from FB in my mailbox and the next day nothing. Now my notifications ‘box’ on FB always has a 100 or more notices about posts several times a day. I honestly have not had the time to play with these changes to see if I can get it back to the way I had it before FB fffffed it up. As for following me, if FB is that bored, have at it. I do understand your frustration with that feature though. I see no reason for them to spy on me or anyone else. Buttheads!

  8. I have never trusted FaceBook and I have never had an account, except that someone unknown created a FaceBook account for me without my permission; I did not have control of the account because obviously I did not have the password. The account was based on my WikiPedia entry. For all I know, FaceBook itself created this account (I have no evidence of this, but how else do you explain this?)

    I complained multiple times, and eventually they deleted the account.

    I still do not trust FaceBook and I will never establish an account with them.

  9. I have had high hopes for the Google+ roll out, and although many of my friends have signed up for it, I don’t think that their use has achieved the same degree of critical mass that will make it an essential networking tool. Still, I like the increased, granular control that one has over the distribution of one’s messages on Google’s service.

  10. These outfits can help – I have no connection to either

    Ghostery – link to ghostery.com
    Taco Abine – link to abine.com (

    You don’t need both – I use Ghostery in my Normal, day to day, easy to use environment and Taco Abine in my Protected, cover my ass, harder to use environment. The latter runs over a VPN (fancy proxy server), puts the browser in a sandbox, runs in a virtual machine.

    The Firefox Collusion extension displays a map of links between sites you access, it uses the PrivacyChoice.org list to highlight links that have privacy issues. It’s not available on the Firefox add-ons site, the author works for Mozilla so maybe that’s why. So scroll down to to the Collusion post at the authors blog link to toolness.com

    If your interested/frightened/intrigued by this stuff then have look in Privacy Matters area at Abine. This page explains how tracking at fb works – link to abine.com

    JUAN – you could use Google++ for your professional, personal, SM needs, I think its now open for business. Problem with Google is that they might kill it themselves, like they did with Wave. LinkedIn might be a better choice, it’s unlikely to fold, and there’s no obvious LetsKillIt competitors, Schmidt might be tempted if Google++ goes belly up, but to grow it, not kill it.

  11. Oh, and I keep up with IC and most everything else with RSS feeds into my browser. That means there’s no third party between me and originating site and I don’t have to disclose my email address.

    About the only use I make of Mr SugerBaby’s service is to post public complaints to the Bolshevik Broadcasting Commissariat (BBC).

  12. “why not stop using this service to spy on us”?

    Because the truth is that Facebook exists to spy on us. We are not its customers; we are its product. Its business model consists of selling our personal data to advertisers.

  13. But Professor it is not only facebook that makes it possible for others to sign you up in a group, that’s exactly what Yahoo and then later Google did, people could form groups ,then put your name in the list without your consent, in case you disagreed with it you had to unsubscribe.So I mean it is a wrong trend in the whole web not necessarily FB alone.

    • No, there is a difference. With Yahoo, you got an invitation message and if you didn’t accept it, you were not signed up. Google + has groups as a way for you to organize the people who are following you; it isn’t a membership thing.

      What Facebook is doing is very different from the other two– it is allowing you to be added to a membership list that generates email discussions in your mailbox, all without your permission.

  14. “why not stop using this service to spy on us”

    Because you are not the party being served. The whole point of Facebook is that it collects data on you which it can then sell to its customers. You are their product, not their customer. However, if enough products get together and complain Facebook may change their policy as they have in the past.

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