Yesterday, Facebook made a subtle switch to users’ contact information: swapping out whatever email address they had listed in favor of a Facebook email account. While reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, the company hasn’t exactly backed down, saying that these changes were announced in April.
Gather technology blogger Gilbert Arcia summed up the way many users felt upon seeing their email replaced by their user name @facebook.com:
The assigned email address is primarily used as a messaging tool. Those not signed up with the site can “email” you at your @facebook.com address and you receive it as a message. You will then receive a notification in your message box letting you know you have a new message.
So what’s the benefit to this? Nothing. It’s just another tactic by the company to make sure you stay on their site without the need of going elsewhere.
When I called Facebook on Monday to ask why the company had changed the settings for the display of people’s email addresses without their permission, potentially violating users’ privacy, I was told that the swap was not a “privacy” change, but rather a “visibility setting” change.
I offered a genuinely confused response to Jaime Schopflin, a Facebook spokeswoman I spoke with. “Um, isn’t changing the visibility of something actually changing the privacy setting?” I asked.
“No,” Ms. Schopflin said, explaining that they are two different things.
To Facebook, the words privacy and visibility may be as different as peas and carrots. But Facebook users and one linguistic expert I talked to seem to disagree.
Forbes called the move “shady.” In an op-ed, Mashable writes that Facebook doesn’t care and feels that the company should work on improving its current messaging system first. Gizmodo called Facebook’s switcheroo an “obnoxious overreach,” and then told users how to switch back. The blog felt that pushing Facebook email was unnecessary, from the user’s standpoint:
Remember long, long ago, when Facebook launched a Facebook email system and then nobody used it? That’s fine — it was always just an option you were more than welcome to completely ignore. And we did, because we already had Gmail and work inboxes, and didn’t need yet another. If our friends wanted to email us, they could just head to our profiles and have options.
Not today! If you go to your profile (or anyone else’s), you’ll see the @facebook.com email account listed — which just forwards to your Facebook messages inbox — and none of your others. They’ve all been hidden in a ham-handed attempt to make the Facebook inbox relevant.
Facebook answered complaints about the contact info change in a statement that was posted on several websites:
As we announced back in April, we’ve been updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site.
In addition to everyone receiving an address, we’re also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their timelines.
Ever since the launch of timeline, people have had the ability to control what posts they want to show or hide on their own timelines, and today we’re extending that to other information they post, starting with the Facebook address.
If you were ever curious about your Facebook email address (yes, you have one, even if you never signed up for one), The Huffington Post has a tutorial.
Readers: Now that you’ve had a day to think it over, what do you think about Facebook’s decision?
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.