Facebook.com, a fast-growing U.S. social network website, has sparked a privacy backlash that has quickly become one of the broadest cyber-protests ever with more than 600,000 members signing an online petition by midday Thursday.
The petition calls for Facebook, which has 9.5 million members, to discontinue a feature -- introduced just two days earlier -- called "News Feed" that instantly notifies members when friends update their own sites.
Facebooks members, most of them from a generation not known for political activism, are complaining of the unintended consequences of making so much personal information available to friends, be it an embarrassing photo or the break-up of a relationship.
"News Feed is just too creepy, too stalker-esque, and a feature that has to go," reads the petition of the newly formed "Students against Facebook News Feed."
"No one likes having their every move watched," said Igor Hiller, 17, a recent high school graduate from Palo Alto, California. "Me and my friends are just feeling really creeped out. It's Big Brotherish."
Two days earlier, the Palo Alto-based company founded in 2004 by then Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg began automatically notifying users whenever new photos were posted by friends. The site also makes it easier to learn about political or social affiliations or dating status.
Until now, privacy protections had been a major selling point for Facebook, the No. 2 U.S. social network service. It differs from bigger rival MySpace.com by giving members far greater control over every detail they may publish on their individual member profile pages.
"Calm down. Breathe. We hear you," Zuckerberg wrote in a note to users on the Facebook site on Tuesday of the changes. But he said he had no plans to back down.
FRIENDS WHO KNOW TOO MUCH
One of the many calls to action asks users to boycott Facebook in a day of protest on Tuesday.
But Igor and his 21-year-old brother Dennis plan a real-world demonstration outside the company's headquarters in Palo Alto on Monday.
"This is the first thing I have gotten really passionate about, where I wanted to make a stir," said Igor, who enrols this month as a freshman politics student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"We are frustrated. At the same time we love Facebook," the younger Hiller said. "I am not saying: 'Down with Facebook' just, 'Go back to the way it was."
Outrage mingled with tongue-in-cheek humour at one protest site: "The Coalition to Stop Facebook, Stalker Edition."
No one tactic dominates. A separate group with 177 members calls itself "Students (Sort of) Against Facebook News Feed." Its manifesto calls for compromise. "News Feed sucks, as is: agreed." But it then cautions against going "mega-Luddite."
Facebook's Zuckerberg responded in his Tuesday blog post to members by writing: "We agree, stalking isn't cool; but being able to know what's going on in your friends' lives is."
The Facebook founder added: "Nothing you do is being broadcast; rather, it is being shared with people who care about what you do -- your friends."
The sudden reaction follows a raft of U.S. privacy scares sparked over the past year by the theft of key details on millions of credit card users and by widespread reports of adult predators targeting teenagers on MySpace.
"Stalking is supposed to be hard," a Facebook user complained.
"What we are trying to do is get people to share information -- and to share whatever they are comfortable doing," Zuckerberg told Reuters.
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