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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Facebook's E-mail Hijack Is Part of a Pattern of Arrogance

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 8:55 AM


If it wasn't clear before, it should be now: Facebook doesn't think much of you. Or me, or any of its supposed 900 million users. We are products, not customers. The customers are the people who buy the incredibly cheap, often sleazy ads that Facebook sells.

The latest datapoint supporting the fact that Facebook is very much patterned after founder Mark Zuckerberg's nerdy, antisocial worldview: The company has taken it upon itself to, without warning, change the e-mail address on user profiles to so-called Facebook e-mail. This isn't actually e-mail as most people think of it -- it's Facebook's internal messaging system.

When you created (or edited) your profile, you decided which e-mail address, if any, you wanted displayed. The default was the address you used to sign up. Facebook's attitude, though, is that it knows better what its users want than users do: Users are just "eyeballs," perhaps connected to a limbic system, but not to a brain. So it yanked (or soon will yank) whatever e-mail address you had there and replaced it with its own.

While certainly annoying, this isn't that huge a deal, really. (And contrary to some overblow claims, it's certainly not the equivalent of a "man in the middle attack," which is a hacker tactic for hijacking e-mail). But it's part of a pattern of arrogance and thoughtlessness that goes back to Facebook's beginnings in Zuckerberg's dorm. He didn't treat his own business partners very well -- why should we expect him to care about users?

Over the past couple of years, this arrogance and thoughtlessness has revealed itself time and time again -- first over breaches of users' privacy, and more recently, with various initiatives to force users to share what they're doing either within Facebook or through various apps such as Spotify, Socialcam, and newsmedia sites, and with the foisting of Timeline and the news ticker upon users. None of these things is meant to improve Facebook for users; they're meant to improve Facebook's business prospects.

The backlash after Forbes' Kashmir Hill reported on this "lame" move on Monday was ubiquitous. Nobody wrote about how great it was that Facebook had done this, of course. And yet, Facebook was "surprised" by the reaction. Even the straight-ahead "objective" described Facebook as "trying to hijack your e-mail address."

Facebook introduced e-mail addresses in 2010, apparently in an attempt to take on Google's Gmail and as yet another method for turning Facebook into the entire Internet. This is behind most of the moves Facebook makes -- it ideally wants a world where you check in to Facebook and never leave.

The problem was, nobody cared about Facebook e-mail, and it was quickly forgotten, until now, when Facebook decided to force it upon users. It is just a "ham-handed attempt to make the Facebook inbox relevant," declares Sam Biddle at Gizmodo.

This won't work either -- people want their own e-mail accounts, and of course not everybody is on Facebook, despite what the company would have you believe.

Luckily, you can change your e-mail back to whatever address you prefer. Because Facebook quite purposefully makes everything difficult for users (the better to control them), you need directions for how to do this. Here they are.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell


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