Facebook users who choose not to link their user accounts to Facebook's public Pages are ending up with blank profiles containing no information at all. If you haven't experienced this problem, it's probably thanks to the somewhat high-pressure tactics Facebook is using to get you to accept these changes.
The next time you visit your Profile page (if you haven't done so already), you'll be introduced to the new "Connected Profiles" option, one of the many potentially concerning privacy-related changes announced at Facebook's f8 developer conference last week. With this option, the text in your Facebook profile section where you list your hometown, education, work and interests, is now being linked to the respective pages on Facebook. So for example, if you live in New York, that's linked directly to a page for New York. If your favorite TV show is "Lost," you'll be linked to that show's page, and so on.
Those who choose not to link, though, are informed via a Facebook pop-up box that their Profile page will be left empty.
Your Profile Gets More Connected
According to news posted on Facebook's official company blog last week, the Connected Profiles option offers more than "just boring text," wrote Facebook software engineer Alex Li. "These connections are actually Pages, so your profile will become immediately more connected to the places, things and experiences that matter to you," Li says.
Sounds good, right?
Well, maybe not. Whether or not this change is actually an improvement for the social network's end users is still up for debate. For starters, many Facebook users had included in their profile section witty sayings and other text that couldn't be exactly matched up with a Facebook Page. Now, if you want to express yourself in this more "free-form" way, you'll have to do so in the "Bio" section of your Profile instead.
That may be bit of an inconvenience, but it's not necessarily the most concerning aspect of the new Connected Profiles. It's their by default public nature that's most troubling.
How Connected Profiles Work
When you revisit your Profile page, explained Li on the Facebook blog, you'll see a box pop-up asking you to link your profile to Pages that reflect your listed interests and affiliations. You can either pick some of these pages or click "Link All to My Profile" to accept all of Facebook's suggestions.
Yet in examining the design of the pop-up box itself, it's clear that it's been crafted so that the "Link All" button, shaded in blue, is the option hurried users will click in an effort to get back to what they were doing - attempting to edit their profile.
Years of poor web experiences filled with pop-up ads, long user agreements no one reads and unnecessary screens on software installations that seem to serve no purpose but to have you click the "Next" button have created a certain type of blindness to pop-up text on the web. Instead of thoughtfully considering the options, a majority of users simply click the button that makes the message go away. You can bet that Facebook is counting on precisely this behavior regarding the new Profiles.
Opting-Out a Poor Option
But even for those who actually do consider the implications of everything about themselves being made public, they'll soon encounter another issue. Something that Li didn't explain in the cheery blog post was what would happen if you refused to link to these new Pages: your profile information will be removed and your profile page will be left empty.
According to a FAQ from Facebook's Help Center:
"If you don't want to connect to any Pages, the corresponding sections on your Profile will be empty. Connecting to Pages will now be the main way to express yourself on your profile, and you can always edit your profile to remove specific suggested Pages that you don't want to connect to."
This isn't a forced "opt-in," like the instant personalization option that's currently being examined by several U.S. senators, including Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Mark Begich and Al Franken, but it certainly feels like an arm-twisting on Facebook's part. It makes opting-out a poor choice, one that degrades the overall Facebook experience.
Making Your Interests Public
That's not to say that this forced link-building doesn't have its pluses - Facebook can now build a web of connections from people to their interests and then allow those details to be shared with the "instantly personalized" websites like Pandora and Yelp. If you leave the privacy issues aside momentarily, you'll see that does offer some intriguing possibilities for a more social web. In addition, other sites can offer Facebook "like imports," an optional feature that would allow you to immediately get a web service up to speed on who you are and what you're into. This is a great feature for recommendation-type sites like Lunch.com, for instance, which is implementing this option today.
However, the high-pressure tactics being used to get people to link to Facebook Pages are a good example of how Facebook is coyly forcing people to go public with their previously more private, personal data. Although the pop-up box quietly warns "Remember, your Pages are public," few Facebook users will likely take note of that text. (After all, if thousands of people managed to confuse this blog with Facebook, we doubt they can grasp the finer points of data privacy.)
So what should your takeaway be from all this mess? Look before you link.
In fact, it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly.