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Facebook email change sparks user outcry

Many ask how Facebook could change email addresses without asking permission

June 26, 2012 03:25 PM ET

Computerworld - Facebook users today expressed outrage over what they saw as a unilateral move by the company to replace the email addresses displayed on their timelines with Facebook.com addresses.

In numerous Twitter messages and posts on Facebook's community forums, users blasted the company for making the change without telling them about it beforehand.

"Who in the hell do you think you are to change my email address without my permission?" Facebook user Michael McFatridge said in a Facebook community forum. "That is a clear violation of my privacy and not what I intended when I entered my contact information."

McFatridge added that he has since changed the email addresses used for his account back to the original. "[I] would expect someone to explain to everyone why you did this without permission."

Lisa Smith, another Facebook user on the same forum, chided the company for treating users like "errant preschoolers."

"I want to be able to decide how people contact me," Smith wrote. "I have enough email addresses and I don't need Facebook telling me I need another one."

Others posted messages expressing nearly identical sentiments and seeking information on how to revert back to their original email addresses.

The brouhaha started over the weekend when Facebook quietly changed the email address displayed on a user's Timeline page to a Facebook.com email address.

A Facebook spokeswoman today said the email change was not unannounced.

She pointed to a brief, four-sentence press release issued by Facebook in April in which the company announced its plans to update email addresses to make them consistent across its site. "Now, the address people use to get to your timeline and send you email on Facebook will be the same," the company announced at that time.

"As we announced back in April, we've been updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site," the Facebook spokeswoman said today via email. "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 Timeline was rolled out, Facebook users have had the ability to control what posts they want to show or hide, she said. "Today, we're extending that to other information they post, starting with the Facebook address."

As a result of the change, users' Facebook email addresses will appear as the default addresses on their timelines, she said. "But at any time they can go in and change it to be another email address," she said.

To change the email address, users should click on the "About" link on the main Timeline page, then click on the Edit button next to the "Contact Info" box. Although users can change the email addresses that appear on their Timelines, the Facebook email address cannot be deleted, only hidden.

Chris Silva, an analyst with the Altimeter Group, said Facebook's move is part of an ongoing strategy by the company to tie SMS, email and Facebook messages to one inbox. "Tying in a dedicated address to this means more messaging traffic to go through Facebook, thus exposing users to more of its content and advertising," Silva said via email, arguing that Facebook is looking to drive longer and deeper sessions with its users.

"That the change happened somewhat suddenly may have come as a surprise to users, but this is an expected shoe to drop in the Facebook messaging play that has been in the works for some time now," Silva said.

covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com.

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