Facebook has introduced a new chatting feature, Ask, which allows one to enquire about the relationship status of their Facebook friends. The ‘Ask’ button appears on the profiles of users who have left their relationship status blank, and includes a note section for explaining why you are interested in that information.
There is a generic ‘About’ segment beneath the main profile picture of every Facebook user. Many people, especially those who are conscious about their privacy, usually do not fill in this section entirely, or choose to leave out a few parts.
With this element though, each incomplete category will have an Ask button positioned to its right. You can click it to request that information, and a box will pop up that includes the option to add a comment.
The owner of the Facebook profile then receives a request to list or select a status that only the sender can see. This means your updated status can remain private but visible to only those who “ask” for that information, if you so wish to divulge it.
This feature also provides for enquiry of other details such as mobile contact, hometown, current city, employment and address if you have not already filled them out. Once you hit “send request” option, only the user who is subject to your inquisition can see the question. They can choose to ignore you, make that information either public or known only to you, or reply with a denial.
According to Facebook service providers, there is no way to turn this feature off. Neither is there an option to prevent or control how one’s friends apply the Ask service. In addition, a user is not able to see the button on his or her own profile.
This feature comes at a time when the use of online dating sites is on the rise. With the massive base of Facebook users, this introduces a new way to use the site as a way to find dates.
A user’s relationship status can also be of use to marketers whose products or services are tailored to target certain demographics. By answering an ‘ask’ request, a Facebook member is telling the site their status (even if it is not visible to the public) and in turn, giving the company that personal data.
While the social media site has had an option to ‘ask’ for a friend’s phone number, address and e-mail for some months now, the relationship status ‘ask’ component is new.
This revolution has been received with mixed reaction from various Facebook users and critics with some people terming it as “an awkward invasion of people’s privacy.” Others have asserted that the button is just another move Facebook has taken to exploit users’ private information.
In an interview in 2010 however, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people”
“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.” He added.
These sentiments could stand in defense of the ‘Ask’ innovation, which has been met with acceptance by a section of users despite the negative reaction by others.