By Cathy Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured an article titled, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” and the lead focused on the story of a young woman whose teaching career ended before it ever began because of an ill-advised posting on MySpace. The Times' article is another example of the hand wringing going on in the media and in popular culture regarding privacy concerns online and in social media in particular. Perhaps fueling this discussion most recently is the firestorm caused by Facebook's changes to its privacy policies -- changes that have not sat well with its users. Which is why last week's introduction of a test for the new feature, “Facebook Questions,” is so interesting in its timing and possibility. In introducing Facebook Questions on the company's blog, Director of Product Blake Ross writes, “Millions of people ask their friends questions on Facebook every day. What new music should I listen to? Where's the best sushi place in town? How do I learn to play the piano? Today we're introducing Facebook Questions, a beta product that lets you pose questions like these to the Facebook community. With this new application, you can get a broader set of answers and learn valuable information from people knowledgeable on a range of topics.” Hmm. So if I pose a question, my name and picture and any other information I have not adequately protected become visible to half a billion Facebook users? Will this lead to many, many more offers from Nigerian millionaires who need my checking account number so they can wire me money? Facebook Questions is only available to a select number of users right now, and we'll be watching carefully to see how it is received. While we expect individual users will be cautious about posing questions to the entire Facebook community -- questions that might be answered more easily, privately and reliably via a search engine such as Google -- there might be extended customer service, public relations and marketing opportunities here for businesses. By asking for feedback on a product or service, businesses could spur traffic to their Facebook pages, increase their number of “likes, ” and widen the circle of people who regularly receive company updates. Undoubtedly, the social media giant's newest application will be thoroughly vetted in the press, on blogs and, of course, on Facebook. What do you think? Will you use it?
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