Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Facebook angers users after ‘hijacking email addresses’

Facebook users have expressed outrage over what they see as a unilateral move by the company to replace the display email addresses of all users with a email address.

Sneaky & underhand

The company claims it had acted to make details "consistent" across its site. But many users have branded the move "annoying" and "lame". Instructions on how to display original addresses instead of the Facebook ones have been widely circulated since the social network rolled out the change, which is an attempt to drive more traffic to the firm's pages and help boost advertising sales.

Facebook first announced plans for the move in April, although the news attracted little attention at the time. Changes by other social networks such as Twitter and Google+ have often been publicised by way of an email sent to their respective users.

When Google rolled out its new privacy terms and conditions to cover all its services, everyone with a Google account received an email explaining the changes. Similarly Twitter emailed its users in May this year when it updated its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

However, the changes to Facebook and its switch to a new email address was not so readily publicised, a move that has been described by some as being underhand and indicative of the way the company fails to respect its users.

Previous criticism

It is not the first time Facebook has drawn the ire of users. Changes to privacy have drawn criticism in the past forcing the company to backtrack and apologise [tvnewswatch: Facebook faces criticism over privacy].

Zuckerberg later acknowledged that Facebook had "missed the mark" in its efforts to convey privacy settings to its almost 500 million users worldwide.

But the company was later hauled over hot coals by US authorities and been forced to agree to a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission barring Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requiring that the company obtain consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Security threat

While the latest faux pas by the social network does not directly break the agreement, in terms of privacy, the changes could be seen as a failure by the company to respect its users. And the change could also pose a security threat according to Sophos. With Facebook already rife with malicious links, apps and phishing attacks, this should be of particular concern to everyone using the site. Since the Facebook email address matches the public username in a user's profile URL, it would not be difficult for someone to work out addresses. "I find it worrying that the email address is created from my name - and seems to be visible to all. As a teacher I do not give out my personal email address but this could allow students (who do not have access to my Facebook) to work it out and contact / message me," one person wrote on the BBC website.


A Facebook spokeswoman said Tuesday that "in hindsight" the company probably should have better explained the email switchover. Asked if the move was made to bolster Facebook's own messaging and email presence, she said, "We want people to use whatever service is most effective for them," adding that the move was made to add consistency to the site once every user was assigned an address. The change also affected all Facebook employees, she said.

The move could be seen somewhat cynically as a deliberate attempt to usurp users' control, increase advertising revenue and to weed out the main competitors. According to the most recent available data from comScore, Microsoft's Hotmail was the most popular Internet-based email service globally as of May, with about 325 million unique visitors. Yahoo's service ranked second, with roughly 298 million users, while Google's Gmail garnered about 289 million users. With nearly a billion users on Facebook, the social network had much to gain by encouraging people to use its own email service.


The storm surrounding the move is not good news for Facebook who has seen a turbulent time after a rocky start to its IPO. Its stock now stands at $33.10 and has recovered after sinking to as low at $25.52. But it still remains well below its IPO launch price of $41.

While many people might be loathed to close their Facebook account the latest misstep by the company could force many to rethink their position. In the meantime users may change back to their originally displayed email address by navigating to the 'About' section of their profile, click 'Edit' where the email addresses are displayed and change the setting to the desired preferences before saving.

[BBC / CNN / Telegraph / D Mail / WSJ / PCAdviser / CNET / Technorati / Mashable]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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