9 ways Facebook is getting slimy

New moves aimed at making money are fine, but not when you anger users along the way.

By Kim Peterson Jul 25, 2012 10:43AM
Facebook (FB) raised $16 billion in its initial public offering in May, but it wants more. Since the social networking site went public, it's been trying out a number of ways to boost its numbers.

Some of the moves have been downright infuriating, such as switching everyone's email address to a facebook.com address. Others have been just annoying, such as the new "sponsored stories" that now appear in feeds.

Nearly every move appears designed to make Facebook more money by increasing traffic, showing users more ads or persuading them to pay more.

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Sorry, Facebook, but you're getting a little slimy. I understand that you've got a bunch of shareholders now and you need to keep the money machine going, but little by little, the user experience is getting sacrificed.

Here are nine ways Facebook is getting shady:

1. Charging to promote posts
Businesses can now pay to promote a post and have it stick around longer in the news feeds of more people. Friends of people who have interacted with the post will also see it, possibly for up to three days, Facebook says. The company calls these "sponsored stories."

One of my friends liked the Nordstrom (JWN) page, for example, and last week Nordstrom's sponsored post showing a Diane Von Furstenberg dress appeared in my news feed. Really? No wonder PCMag.com called this feature "a new tool for jerks." Another tech site called it "not much more than sponsored spam."

2. The email switcheroo
Facebook automatically gives users their own facebook.com email address -- uh, thanks? -- but even worse, it then switched users' contact email addresses to those Facebook addresses. Craziness ensued. Some people said the contacts in their online address books were changed, and others reported lost email.

Facebook users had to go in and change their settings to hide that facebook.com email address. "Switching a user's contact information without their consent feels like an enormous breach of trust and leaves me less likely to trust such a company with any communication more substantive than happy birthday wall posts," wrote an astute observer on Mashable.

3. More and more ads

Facebook has steadily increased that number to seven. Now, Facebook is testing as many as 10 ads per page, reports AllFacebook. Once upon a time, Facebook only showed you one ad per page.

Fewer ads were one reason people jumped from MySpace to Facebook, writes John Koetsier at VentureBeat. "While you could argue that some ads are beneficial to the user experience if they’re relevant and timely, more is not necessarily better," he adds.

4. Users under age 13?
Facebook bans children under age 13 from joining, but that could change. The company is developing technology to allow children to use the site with parental supervision, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The idea drew immediate criticism from just about everyone, and prompted an inquiry from two Congressmen, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.). Facebook wrote the lawmakers in June and said this: "At this point, we have made no final decision whether to change our current approach of prohibiting children under 13 from joining Facebook."

5. No permission necessary?
Facebook is thinking about letting users play games immediately without showing them a Permissions box, AllFacebook reports. In the past, a user would see a little box asking for permission for the game to access a user's profile information and friend list. Soon, that little box may not be there.

Instead, the game would have a blue bar above it that lets users opt out and the information removed from the app. Why the change? Because Facebook says that the new way leads to more game installs and lower opt-out rates. "If users become more comfortable with their basic profile information being used to personalize websites, apps and games, the social network might eventually decide to allow some of this info to be used by default," writes Brittany Darwell of AllFacebook.

6. Adding a 'want' button
Facebook users are comfortable with the "like" button. But do they want a "want" button? One Web developer says he has found evidence that the company is testing the feature, perhaps with the ultimate goal of sharing your purchases on the site.

A "want" button is pure gold for advertisers. If somebody "wants" a pair of Old Navy jeans, for example, I could see Old Navy blasting that person and all their friends with ads for eternity. And Facebook would ring up some serious ad dollars.

7. Facebook is watching
Facebook loves facial-recognition technology so much that it bought Face.com, which specializes in the software. The company uses the technology to suggest the names of friends on photos that you upload. "Now I can take pictures of cute girls at the grocery store or at the park, upload them and Facebook will tell me who they are!" joked one hopeful commenter on Engadget. Not exactly, but the idea is scary enough.

One security researcher told Mashable that this recognition technology could lead to more forms of -- surprise! -- advertising. What if Facebook can also recognize products, and knows you're holding a can of Coca-Cola in your hand in that photo? There's an ad opportunity.

8. Monitoring our chats
Your Facebook chats are private, right? Nope, the company is using security software that scans chats for criminal activity, Reuters reports. Facebook isn't saying a whole lot about what goes into this, but Reuters says that in general, the software looks for inappropriate language and exchanges of personal information.

The Facebook software helped police bust a man in his early thirties who was chatting about sex with a 13-year-old South Florida girl and planned to meet her (see, even 13-year-olds shouldn't be using Facebook!). That this guy was caught is absolutely great. But the idea that Facebook's bots are listening to everything we say? Not so much.

9. Rotating ads -- because you just can't see enough
OK, fine, we'll take the seven (or is it 10?) ads Facebook shows us. But the company has kicked it up another notch. If you've been on the same page for a while, it will remove those ads and show you new ones.

"This change was implemented a few weeks ago and we think this will help people see more relevant ads," a Facebook spokesperson told ClickZ.

Users not as satisfied
It's no coincidence that as Facebook has ramped up its money-making engine, user satisfation has begun to fall. In surveys from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Facebook only scored 61 out of 100 in customer satisfaction among active users. That's down eight points from 2011. Facebook scored lower than Twitter, LinkedIn (LNKD), Pinterest, YouTube and Google+ by Google (GOOG).

Facebook will give its first earnings report as a public company Thursday, and investors will be closely watching to see if the company can boost its revenue growth. The company is under pressure to begin making money from mobile advertising and increase its overall growth rates.

The company almost seems like it's throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. I cringe now when I see any news item that begins with "Facebook is testing."

An awesome user experience is what helped Facebook build a base of more than 900 million users. Facebook is now walking that fine line between making more money and turning those users off. Don't blow it, guys.

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63Comments
Jul 25, 2012 2:45PM
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I already know I'm unpopular. Why should I be on a website that emphasizes it.
Jul 25, 2012 2:34PM
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Facebook has been steadily declining as a result of all the new crap they impose on a seemingly monthly basis.  I liked the old, circa 2007 platform with the clean blue and white interface.  Now, with the Timeline garbage, incessant ads, and the side ticker that is overwhelmingly meticulous to operate, I can see the appeal to Google+.  Facebook, like many other things, is a fad that will soon get tossed aside like MySpace as users exodus to the next big thing.
Jul 25, 2012 2:46PM
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Yet more evidence that I made the right decision staying off of this social embarrasment from day one.
Jul 25, 2012 3:14PM
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Facebook is kind of a sign of the times and the on-going spiraling decline of culture.

 

Television resulted in presidential candidates getting elected on the basis of how they look on TV (starting with Nixon/Kennedy debate) and an epidemic of obese "couch potatoes".

 

Add the commercialization of Christmas and every other holiday. A culture that denigrates intellectuals as "nerds" and worships sports figures like Joe Paterno and Michael Vick.


Now you have phony celebrities like Kate Gosselin and Kim Kardassian. Phony, ad executive-conceived bands and phony music.

 

Somedays I don't know if I'm in the Matrix or the starship Axiom from Wall-E.

 

Why not a commercialized delivery vehicle using phony friends as a front?

Jul 25, 2012 2:21PM
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I liked Facebook back in 2006, when I could track down my old friends and see where they were and what they were up to.  It was so much cleaner than Myspace, which was full of ads and crappy bands trying to get their stuff out.  Now Facebook is open to EVERYONE and BUSINESSES (which, y'know, is not much different from those crappy bands that took over Myspace).  And I hate those stupid games and apps.  Seriously, can't these people realize that we liked social networking because we basically want an interactive online address book?  Simpler is better.
Jul 25, 2012 2:28PM
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Getting slimy? GETTING? Facebook was slimy from day ONE.
Jul 25, 2012 3:05PM
Jul 25, 2012 12:39PM
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Facebook  has been slimy since it's first days in bussiness.You just realize that. It's been dirty since zuckerberg stole the idea. Then got even slimier when he got parker involved.
Jul 25, 2012 2:43PM
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I am a constant user of  fb and the recent changes are a joke. FB is beginning to suck!!!
Jul 25, 2012 12:35PM
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Zuckerberg IS a slimeball--so his biz practices should not be a big surprise. 
Jul 25, 2012 1:30PM
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What do they mean by getting slimy?  FB has been there for a while.  What do you expect from a business that relies solely on the narcissism of its members?
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I  much prefer seeing my buds in person, having a few, maybe some golf, bowling, ATV'n, snowmobiling, the list is kind of long.  Can't do that sitting on my butt staring into a computer.

Jul 25, 2012 1:43PM
Jul 25, 2012 2:38PM
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I think that Face Book and all other Media like it should be shutdown for good.  Return the Internet to what it once was, a means of information, and work.   People do not know how to use this type of Media, and therefore should not be allowed to use it.  I have noticed that HATRED IS GROWING faster and faster since this type of Media has come into being.   It seems to bring out the worst in peope most of the time, not the best.
Jul 25, 2012 1:20PM
Jul 25, 2012 1:50PM
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Mark Zukerberg may well be off the billionaire lists in record time.
Jul 25, 2012 1:39PM
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I have YET to see an AD on FB that has made me want to buy their product...

 

It wont be trash that pollutes the world, it will be ADs instead.

Jul 25, 2012 1:25PM
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May just be coincidence or anecdotal, but I've been noticing that my friends usage of Facebook has significantly dropped in the past few months. Even personally, I'm finding myself to have less and less of a reason to even log in. I used to log in every day, now it's turned into a once a week thing. 
Jul 25, 2012 4:14PM
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deleted facebook just prior to the IPO.  I saw the writing on the wall...financial motivation as well as FB being used as a proxy for authorites, possible employers and misc unsavory folks to monitor you. 

 

 

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