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Facebook's new 'Groups' feature stirs controversy

October 7, 2010 | 11:45 am

Every time Facebook rolls out a major new feature, it reels in a new controversy.

The latest: its Groups feature, which allows anyone to "tag" and add a friend to a group.

Some are embracing Groups. But others -- such as entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis, founder and chief executive of Mahalo.com -- are crying foul.

Calacanis published an e-mail he sent to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to complain about being “force joined” to a group called NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association).

As per usual, Facebook is under fire for requiring users to "opt out" of a new feature rather than to "opt in." Anyone can set up a Facebook group and add anyone they want. If a group is publicly visible, anyone can see the membership of that group. So pranks like the one played on Calacanis (and apparently TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington) are likely to proliferate.

"If you guys want to run these new features by me before you launch them, I can probably save you from a couple of privacy law suits each year,"Calacanis wrote.

Another critic is Anil Dash, who on Twitter said: "Oh, Facebook. I wanted to like groups, but now I'm on 50 unwanted email lists." The possibility of being spammed on a regular basis has some in the tech media wondering why Facebook did not handle group invitations the way they handle friend requests.

Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Facebook wanted to make it easy for users to participate by allowing their friends to add them to groups. Users can leave groups with a single click and cannot be added to that group again without their permission. Users can even turn groups off altogether.

Facebook spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin said in a statement that the company wanted to make the product simple. "It resembles something we all understand: adding one of your contacts to an email thread."

"Many social dynamics on Facebook are determined by the people who use it. If you have a friend that is adding you to groups you do not want to belong to, or they are behaving in a way that bothers you, you can tell them to stop doing it, block them or remove them as a friend and they will no longer EVER have the ability to add you to any group," Schopflin wrote. "If you don't trust someone to look out for you when making these types of decisions on the site, we'd suggest that you shouldn't be friends on Facebook."

So did Facebook blow it? Let us know what you think.

-- Jessica Guynn

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