New Facebook Groups and Privacy Implications

The new Facebook Groups application is a great new interface for social groups to share content. It now features:

  • notifications
  • Group chat
  • document sharing
  • a much nicer interface

What it is not unfortunately is a new way to manage privacy. When I initially saw this announcement, I thought they would match Diaspora’s ‘aspects’ functionality. Especially given Zuckerberg’s blog post:

“The biggest problem in social networking is helping you easily interact with your friends and share information in lots of different contexts.”

An aspect is exactly that, a reflection of an aspect of your real life. Aspects of your life might be family, close friends or work colleagues.

Diaspora allows you to place people into these aspect groupings so that content you share with those aspects remains within the aspect. So an off-colour joke to your close friends is not shown to your work colleagues. People in those aspects don’t know they’re in the aspect. And more importantly they can’t add people to the aspect, only you can.

After some testing within the Sydney Digital Influence team we established fairly quickly that the new Facebook Groups is not the equivalent. There were several issues we found that clearly made Groups unsuitable for this purpose:

  • members can add members: as the person sharing the content, this does not give you absolute control to who can see the content. Like the most recent internet meme Karen Owen. As the group admin you are able to retrospectively block and ban permanently
  • the member is aware that they are in the group: which also makes it harder for you to compartmentalise people. You can’t call a group ‘acquaintances’ because the people in that group may consider themselves your best friend
  • which also means that as a member if all of my colleagues had a group called ‘colleagues’ I could be a member of 20 ‘colleagues’ groups. Annoying.
  • YOU MUST OPT OUT of notifications. If one of my friends sets up a group for their business or gaming site and invites me, I automatically join AND can start receiving EMAILS from them without opting in.
  • The next problem with having to OPT OUT is that if a friend of mine creates a Pro Life or Pro Choice group and invites me, I AUTOMATICALLY join it! Which shows up in my group memberships. There are multiple issues with this!

Ultimately, the Groups app is actually a good app for groups to share and collaborate within. The interface is great, much better than the old groups. The problem is simply the way Zuck’s positioned it opens the company up to more privacy criticism.