Facebook News Feed Reports on You Behind Your Back

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The Facebook News Feed is a strange beast. Upon its release, it was met with an extremely negative reception as members protested their new ‘auto-stalker’, but it has slowly gained acceptance as users learned they could control which stories were sent to the News Feed. Users need only click a small ‘x’ in their own personal ‘mini-feed’, and any stories they don’t want shared will be withheld from their friends’ feeds.

At least, that’s what most people think. Unfortunately, clicking that ‘x’ doesn’t remove your story from the newsfeed sent to your friends – it only removes it from your own profile. This discrepancy has been a rising source of concern for many Facebook users and developers who have unwittingly informed their friends of activites they had ostensibly made private.

Much of the problem stems from what seems to be a poorly worded notification box that appears when a user deletes a story from their own profile. Upon clicking the ‘x’ next a story, a dialog appears that says, “Hiding will remove the story from your Mini-Feed and prevent anyone from seeing it.” The statement seems to indicate that the item is permanently hidden from everyone’s view, but this isn’t the case. It might not show up on your profile, but your friends will still know about it, compliments of their News Feed homepage.

The issue was first raised in a Facebook developer forum last January, and has since led to a number of concerned threads, bug reports, and Facebook groups. A poll created (and paid for) by one developer resulted in a an 85% disapproval rate for this ‘feature’. The developers have known about it for months (at least), yet it persists.

In order to truly keep these notifications away from your friends, you must go into each application’s privacy settings and remove its permission to publish stories to your News Feed. The feature can also be disabled during application installation by unchecking the box that says “Publish stories in my News Feed and Mini-Feed”. Most Facebook users never bother with these options, as they assume that by manipulating their own Mini-Feeds, they are in control of their News Feeds as well.

We’ve contacted Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly for comment.

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