Op-Ed: Facebook Groups new 'seen by' feature creates privacy concerns
Facebook is in the news again for another privacy-related issue. Last week the social network quietly introduced a feature that allows users to see who has viewed a post on a Facebook group and when they did it.
The announcement was made by Facebook in a brief July 11 posting
, which said:
"Facebook groups are spaces where you can share things with the people who care about them most. You can use groups to connect with important sets of people like your family, soccer team or book club. Starting today when you visit a group, you can view who’s seen each post. This way you can stay updated on the group’s activity."
Basically, that's it, little elaboration and no fanfare, which is pretty typical of Facebook when it comes to these types of tweaks on the network.
Graham Cluley notes the privacy concerns in a post
on Sophos' Naked Security blog. Here's an example given by Cluley:
"For now you can still snoop on the profiles and pictures of your ex-partners (their privacy settings permitting) to keep a track - without them knowing - of how miserable their life has become since they split up with you. But if you are in the same Facebook group (perhaps related to a school, club or joint interest), you can see both, whether someone has seen a particular post and at what time they saw it."
For those who seek to hide their online status by blocking instant message chats and posting at chosen times, with this new feature, other users can tell if an individual is online and reading posts, thus effectively tracking online behavior on Facebook. It's not quite the same thing as the sender getting a notifier that the recipient has read it, because not just the sender can see, but anyone in the group can see.
According to Sophos, TechCrunch
asked Facebook if this feature would be added to the news feed, and was told the social network giant is "not going to discuss what we might (or might not) do in the future."
That kind of response raises a few eyebrows.
TechCrunch mused, "But will read receipts come to the news feed? Some users might find that very creepy."
Some may see this new feature beneficial for groups, as TechCrunch outlined, however there is the bigger picture of privacy to consider. Red Orbit
also notes it could lead to awkward situations and cites a few examples.
Additionally, consider the possibility of other potential notifiers that extend beyond groups? Say Facebook adds a 'seen by' notation for all posts and who clicked on what link was shared? As it stands, there is a level of anonymity of perusing news feeds, but how would users feel if that went a bit more public too? Facebook has in no way announced this, however the idea of more openness is not really far-fetched where Facebook is concerned.
At this time it appears users cannot block this new group 'seen by' notification feature. Given Facebook's track record, not surprising.
Red Orbit writes, "Facebook also has the practiced knack of pushing the boundaries of its user’s privacy, one inch at a time."
Looks like another inch has been taken forward.