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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is facing a backlash from users after it quietly replaced e-mail addresses listed in members’ contacts with those provided by its own @facebook.com system. Facebook said it acted to make details “consistent” across its site, but some users are put off by the move, and have been publicizing instructions on how to display original addresses instead of Facebook ones.
The social network first announced plans for the move in April, but the news attracted little attention at the time. If it takes off, the email system could drive more traffic to the firm’s pages, helping boost advertising sales.
“We are providing every Facebook user with his or her own Facebook email address because we find that many users find it useful to connect with each other, but using Facebook email is completely up to you,” said a statement from the company.
Within the Facebook site, users have been able to send messages to friends, but the new @facebook.com system will allow people to send messages from external accounts like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail. Emails sent to @facebook.com address will appear alongside posts sent using the network’s internal message system, allowing users to pick up both types of communication from the same place.
Many younger members have already begun to use Facebook as their main means of communication, and check the site more often than their email accounts. Facebook may have had a winner on its hands, finding a way to bypass Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), two of the dominant free email services, had it not been for the automatic opt-in.
That move could backfire. “It reeks of the same move Google did with its Buzz product when it automatically opted people in, and users recoiled against the action,” said Anthony Mullen, interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research.
“This is a direction Facebook needs to move in – your email is a proxy for your identity on the internet and Facebook want to usurp people’s pre-existing email identities with their own to help drive up traffic to its site and lock users into its service,” said Mullen.
“The problem is the lack of transparency — it has acted without asking for members’ permission first.”
However, Facebook has survived unpopular moves in the past. And though the transition may be rough — and slow — new media and technology are all about agglomeration, with one service or device performing the functions of many. The simplicity of having all of one’s communications in a single location online will likely appeal to some, and is unlikely to chase away users who opt out of the service. After all, we’re living in a Facebook world, and signing out for most just isn’t an option.
Shares of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) are trading up over 2 percent in afternoon trading today.
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