Employees gather in front of a white board called "The Facebook Wall"… (Noah Berger / Bloomberg )
SAN FRANCISCO -- A new Facebook feature that lets users pay to promote their friends’ posts is raising privacy concerns.
The promoted posts abide by privacy settings, but users have zero control over which posts friends promote. There is no way to opt out of it.
The feature is the latest in a series of gimmicks to generate revenue for Facebook. For a $7 fee, friends can select "promote and share" from the drop-down menu on the top-right corner of a friend's status update.
Facebook says it is rolling out the feature because there was demand for it. The feature is supposed to benefit users, allowing friends to draw attention to good deeds, achievements or milestones, such as fund-raising for a charity, starting a new job or having a baby.
"This feature respects the privacy of the original poster – i.e. it will promote to everyone who originally saw it. You can only promote posts to the people that your friend originally shared with. If you have mutual friends, they’ll see that you shared it and promoted it," Facebook said in a statement.
Privacy watchdogs say the feature is yet another example of Facebook wresting control of users' information and turning it into a commodity to be sold.
"The user, not Facebook should control the data," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
He compared it to the early days of caller ID.
"The telephone companies were charging customers to obtain the phone numbers of the people calling. There were also charging people to block the disclosure of their telephone numbers. Either way the telephone company made money. But the key was that they first had to take control of the disclosure of the user's personal information, i.e. the phone number," Rotenberg said.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a frequent Facebook critic, said the feature “further transforms friendship into just another marketing opportunity.”
“Nothing is off limits to Facebook executives when it comes to turning friendships into an opportunity to make an extra buck,” Chester said.
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