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Facebook Groups: Privacy Blunder or Twitter Replacement

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Facebook rolled out a comprehensive upgrade to its Groups feature on Wednesday, but judging by some of the responses from both high-profile users and regular Facebook fans, the ability to “tag” anyone and add them to a group automatically is not winning the company much support. For some, this feature appears to be another example of Facebook’s preference for automatically opting people in to new services by default and forcing them to opt out, as it did with the recently launched Facebook Places. Others, however, greeted the new Groups with open arms and said the new features might even replace Twitter for some of their conversations — words that will probably be music to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ears.

One of the more vocal opponents of the new Groups feature is entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, founder and CEO of Mahalo, who published an email he wrote to Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg about being auto-added to a group called NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association). According to Calacanis, he was never asked to join the group, and was not informed that he was “force-joined” to the group. He closed the email by saying: “If you guys want to run these new features by me before you launch them, I can probably save you from a couple of privacy law suits each year.”

Anil Dash, founder of Expert Labs, said Thursday morning on Twitter: “Oh, Facebook. I wanted to like groups, but now I’m on 50 unwanted email lists. More incompetent defaults, or an attempt to undermine email?” Others complained about a deluge of auto-add emails from Facebook Groups, including Daniel Victor, the online community manager a community host for, who said Thursday: “I’d rather be invited than added to a group on Facebook. Woke up with 45 unexpected e-mail notifications today. Spammer’s dream.” Among those who also weren’t impressed with the rollout were technology blogger Dwight Silverman and Socialtext co-founder Adina Levin, who said that the current implementation of the Groups feature “has some serious social design flaws.”.

Laura Fitton, co-founder of the Twitter app directory, asked on Twitter “Did Facebook simply “forget” 15 years of email list best practices? ie, email lists should be opt in, not opt out?” while others wondered whether the new groups would simply wind up creating more cliques and exclusion.

As for Facebook’s perspective on the changes, Liz asked Mark Zuckerberg about the auto-adding feature during her interview with the CEO on Wednesday, and he said the idea was to “make it as easy as possible” and to encourage “self-selection” — suggesting that groups which might try to trick you into joining would not prosper. He and Groups manager Justin Shaffer (who joined Facebook via the recent acquisition of his company Hot Potato) also noted that you can turn groups off; you can leave a group with a single click; and once you leave a group, you can’t be re-added to it without your permission.

Despite the criticisms, however, there were some fans who seemed to take to the new Facebook Groups features fairly quickly, and several who said that they could see using the new service more than Twitter in some cases. Journalism professor Jen Lee Reeves wrote a blog post describing how the new implementation of Groups seems more “alive” than it did before, and added that while she used to use Twitter for such conversations, “this changes it all.” Francine Hardaway of Stealth Partners, meanwhile, said Thursday morning on Twitter that Groups had produced an “amazing transformation” and that “in one day, all the action in my “intellectual” life switched from Twitter to FB groups.”

That kind of comment is likely to be exactly what Zuckerberg wants to hear, as Facebook continues to build what it hopes will be the one social network to rule them all.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Christian Scholz

20 Responses to “Facebook Groups: Privacy Blunder or Twitter Replacement”

  1. “He and Groups manager Justin Shaffer (who joined Facebook via the recent acquisition of his company Hot Potato) also noted that you can turn groups off; you can leave a group with a single click; and once you leave a group, you can’t be re-added to it without your permission.”

    So, you can turn groups off??? HOW!!??! I cannot find this option ANYWHERE!!!

  2. Alright guys, here it is. An application that will send you email digest from facebook groups. The app is called “Group Email Digest” and is available at or The app shows you a list of groups you are a member of (new groups as well as old groups) and allows you to subscribe to one or more of them for daily email digest. This will keep your mailbox clean and updated.

  3. While I like the ability to have small, private groups, the open add-in invitation policy in dangerous. For example, we are in the middle of some hotly contested elections in the United States. People could easily add pollsters, politicians, campaigners, etc. to Facebook groups that have nothing to do with their political affiliation, choice of religion or sexual orientation. Of course, these same problems apply to everyone else. The potential for litigation is endless unless these prviacy holes are corrected.

  4. Kville’s idea is a good one. It’s my understanding that only your friends can add you automatically–more of a nuisance to me than a privacy violation. I have really kept my Facebook friends down in numbers to people I really, genuinely care about. It’s hard for me to imagine them adding me to a group I wouldn’t be interested in. I asked friends before adding them to the group that @ckanal started (the one @jenleereeves mentions in her post), and to Twitter friends, I just sent the link to add themselves.

    Methinks whoever added Calacanis to the NAMBLA group doesn’t like him very much. He should browse through his Facebook friends to see if it’s time to do some defriending…

  5. I was so excited about Facebook’s initiative when I first heard about it because I have resisted joining for the very reason they supposedly created this new “Groups” feature. However, the fact that you can be automatically put into groups without your permission, and that members of your group can bring new people in without the creator’s permission, is also a dealbreaker. It completely flies in the face of privacy, I’m appalled Facebook thinks this is a step forward.

    If I create a group, I don’t want my members to be able to invite anyone, anytime. I’d never want to share anything personal with them for fear of someone else getting added to the group (whether innocently OR maliciously).

  6. This problem seems so easy to solve. Allow your contacts to auto-add you, but it should require your confirmation to execute. Makes it easy, but also gives you the final say.

  7. You can also give a try. We recently added the ability to create groups by selecting users from your address book. The difference is, these groups are not visible to anyone else and no one but you can update your groups. is a new, free secure threaded messaging application that encrypts everything you share while in-transit and while at-rest. It is not a social networking application. It won’t help you find your friends, but it will protect your privacy as well as theirs.

  8. This will certainly not be a Twitter replacement. Some people will enjoy it and some people will detest it for the reasons you listed above.

    If you are looking for similar group interaction on Twitter check out, it is true group communication on Twitter unlike Twitter Lists.

  9. Mark Zuckerberg says that groups that trick you into joining won’t prosper. How good for them, then, that no trickery is required. They add you, and you’re joined! No trickery involved.

    The thing is, for the most part, this is a great improvement for Facebook, very useful, pretty well designed. But the lack of any confirmation required to be added to a group destroys it all.