Facebook Groups, Apps Could Blunt Controversy

Facebook's new applications could help the social networking site blunt some recent controversies, but probably won't stop people from "unfriending" over others' posts.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likely isn't the world's biggest fan of "The Social Network," the new David Fincher movie that portrays him as lacking a few niggling attributes, such as tact and ethics. But he probably wouldn't deny that buzz over the flick is raising Facebook's public profile just as the social networking site rolls out its latest slate of features.

On Oct. 6, Facebook called a massive press conference at its California headquarters. Rumors predictably abounded: Would Zuckerberg announce a Facebook-branded smartphone? Another massive donation to a struggling school system? A contract on Jesse Eisenberg's (the actor who portrays Zuckerberg in the movie) head ?

As it turned out, none of the above: Facebook announced three new applications designed to give users greater control over their personal data, and the ability to create more exclusive groups.

"We set out to build a solution that could help you map out all of your communities, that would be simple enough that everyone would use it and that would be deeply integrated across Facebook and applications," Zuckerberg wrote in an Oct. 6 posting on The Facebook Blog. "Today we're announcing a completely overhauled, brand new version of Groups."

The new Groups will allow users to create small, private cliques. "The net effect is [that] your whole experience is organized around spaces of the people you care most about," Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook is also offering its 500 million users the ability to download a Zip file with all of their profile information to their desktop. That's on top of new privacy settings, which display all the applications siphoning individual profile data.

"We're launching a new dashboard to give you visibility into how applications use your data to personalize your experience," Zuckerberg explained. "You can also see in detail when they last accessed your data. You can change the settings for an application to make less information available to it, or you can even remove it completely."

The new applications, some analysts and pundits wrote after the event, suggest Facebook is taking steps to shut down persistent concerns over user privacy.

"We think that this is an important step forward in terms of providing more transparency to users about where their Facebook data is going and who's using it," Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, blogged on Oct. 6. "However, we hope that Facebook will soon take a few steps farther, both by providing a more complete picture of how much information is going to the apps that you install, and also by providing information about how much information is going to the apps that your friends have installed."

Meanwhile, another study highlighted a new concern among Facebook users: unnecessary posts by their friends. A new survey of 1,500 Facebook denizens found that unimportant posts, delivered with mind-numbing frequency, was the Number One reason for "unfriending" other users. "The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting," University of Colorado Denver Business School student Christopher Sibona, the mind behind the survey, said in a quote posted on his school's Newsroom site Oct. 5.

The second most-popular reason for defriending ("unfriending")? Posting about topics such as religion and politics. "They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties, and the same thing is true online," Sibona wrote.

Of course, with the new Facebook Groups, you could always create a private forum where you could write about just those things.