Guest Post: Mike Riverso – The “New” Couples Page Feature Isn’t New or a Feature, Discuss…

I’m out of town this week!

So in lieu of my weekly Klout Experiment update, I’ve decided to let a guest weigh in on a social media issue of his choice. Mike Riverso is a tech geek and an excellent improviser from Toronto, Ontario. This week, he shares his views on the oh-so-controversial Facebook Couples Page. Ironically, he asked me to plug his Twitter in this introduction…

The New Couples Page Feature Isn’t New or a Feature, Discuss…

Have you heard about the most recent Facebook privacy fiasco? According to much of the internet, Facebook is forcing you to have a so-called “Couples Page” that documents the shared history of you and your partner, whether you want that information to be public or not. They’re once again infringing on your privacy rights, giving you no way to opt out.

Or are they? The truth, it turns out, is a lot more benign. The “Couple’s Page” outrage is no more than a small privacy scare blown way out proportion. We see it happen all the time: Facebook makes a change, and the next thing you know your news feed is full of grossly misinformed viral status updates containing incorrect instructions for fixing problems that don’t even exist. In this particular case, a minor update to an old feature was misinterpreted as being something completely new and very invasive.

Let’s take a look at the original news post from Facebook, posted on November 8th:

” Starting today, we’re introducing a new layout for friendship pages. Friendship pages combine posts, photos and events that you and another person have shared. Click the gear menu at the top of a friend’s timeline to see a friendship page. If you’ve listed yourself as “in a relationship” with someone, you can also visit facebook.com/us to see the friendship page you share with that person.”

Friendship pages are a feature that have existed since 2010, an extension of the “wall-to-wall” feature that existed before that. You can see a friendship page for yourself and any of your friends simply by navigating to your friend’s timeline, clicking the gear icon in the upper right corner (just below the cover image), and clicking “See Friendship.” You can even see a friendship page for any two arbitrary users by entering their usernames into the URL. For instance, here’s me and Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook is updating the look of these pages to match the timeline changes they made to profile pages in December of 2011. It’s a simple cosmetic change. That’s it. The only truly new feature? They’re adding a convenient URL that redirects to the friendship page for you and your partner, as well as turning your relationship status on your timeline into a link to that same page. Note that nowhere on the Facebook news post does the term “Couple’s Page” exist. Somewhere along the way, however, news media picked up the story and let it mutate into false information.

On November 8th, The Verge brings attention to the original Facebook news post. No embellishments there. The Verge’s article was referenced by TechRadar a day later, this time focusing on the introduction of the Facebook.com/us URL and naming the feature “couples pages”. This thread culminates in a post at the Telegraph on November 12th, decrying the “new” feature as an invasion of privacy.

From there, the outrage grows along with the spread of misinformation. Do a Google search for “Facebook couples pages” and you’ll find thousands of articles, mostly negative and accusatory, as these things tend to go. Eventually, the media catches on to the mistake, and more recent articles take a more conciliatory tone. Slate.com has it mostly right, for example, emphasizing the fact that the new friendship pages are no different than before. They also have an apt assessment of the media situation:

“What the backlash really demonstrates is how many people use Facebook without knowing what they’re signing up for.”

That’s the crux of the problem. The majority of people use Facebook without really knowing how it works. They freely give every detail of their lives to Facebook, but aren’t aware of the majority of the site’s features. How many of you knew that friendship pages even existed? How many have checked your privacy settings lately? I’m willing to bet not many.

The only solution is to educate yourself about the services you use. Look into Facebook’s privacy settings and learn how to use them to suit your needs. Learn to be aware of the information you’re sharing, how it’s being shared, and with whom. The same goes for any other site that might be gathering your personal information.

Yes, Facebook has made privacy missteps in the past, but it’s up to users to take an interest in their privacy. Facebook itself has created very detailed help pages that guide you through what you need to know. Take the time to learn a thing or two about the the services you use every day and you’ll be able to not only better protect your privacy, but also better discern whether or not the next Facebook privacy scare is something you need to worry about.

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