Was Facebook or Burger King right about user privacy?

By offering users a coupon for a free Whopper in exchange for deleting ten friends, Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice saw 82,000 users delete over 230,000 relationships on Facebook.

Few Facebook applications manage to attain the level of viral adoption and mainstream stream press coverage that Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice application have received. By offering users a coupon for a free Whopper in exchange for deleting ten friends, the application saw 82,000 users delete over 230,000 relationships on the social networking site, according to Inside Facebook.

As Nick O'Neill notes at AllFacebook, however, Facebook's temporary removal of the application until the broadcast of "de-friending" was removed was yet another public relations snafu by Facebook. According to Facebook, publishing the removal of friends by Burger King's application was a violation of user privacy, as Facebook prohibits those types of alerts.

What's ironic, however, is that Facebook requires users to jump through confusing hoops in order to prevent some of their own relationship information to be broadcast. Removing a person from an established relationship (such as "married to" or "in a relationship with") would seem as simple as asking that relationship status not appear on your profile, then removing the person, right? However, first, the user has to find the preference setting to request that relationship status not be posted to walls or feeds, then hide the relationship status, and then remove the individual. Simply asking Facebook to no longer post relationship status on a profile page results in a message going out under default settings that the user is "no longer married to" or "no longer in a relationship with" even if the relationship still exists on the site, as many users have discovered when a post went out stating that they'd ended their relationships.

O'Neill is correct that Facebook's reliance on voluntary compliance with Facebook's terms is nearly impossible to police when it comes to application developers. More cause for concern, however, is the double standard that Facebook seems to have when it comes to user privacy. For a company that's still running Beacon, the privacy concerns seem to be enforced on a inconsistent basis.

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