Valentine's day is months away, but Facebook has made a romantic gesture anyway, setting up new "merged" profiles for couples. But will people "like" it? It's not been a bed of roses so far...
Forget flowers and chocolates. Forget romantic mixtapes. In the 21st century, relationships are lived online.
This week, social networking giant Facebook has launched a new feature which automatically creates a merged page for couples who have listed their relationship statuses as "in a relationship" or "married".
The merged page, which is in addition to the happy couple's individual profiles, includes a profile picture of the pair (see above) as well as listing events they have attended together, friends and interests they have in common, and their online interactions.
Facebook says that the profiles are just a tweak to a feature which has been in place since 2010, which allows users to see their friendship histories with any other user they are connected to (to do this, click on the wheel icon next to any of your friends' names when you are on their profile page, and hit "see friendship").
These "friendship pages" have changed in look as well, to more closely resemble profile pages.
I guess it could be a problem if you change partners like underwear. Dagny Bohdan, Facebook user
But users are not convinced.
"Sickening," Facebook user Claire Brown posted on the Channel 4 News Facebook page.
"Bucket please," added Gareth Moore.
"I guess it could be a problem if you're in multiple relationships. Or if you change partners like underwear," said Dagny Bohdan, possibly tongue-in-cheek. "Really, it should be our choice, but until there are set fees to use Facebook we won't have choice."
Not happily ever after
Critics fall into a number of camps: those who feel it is just plain creepy; others who feel that the feature is fine, but ought to be voluntary; and others who are concerned that the only way to opt out of the relationship feature is to break up with your partner - on Facebook at least.
A Facebook spokeswoman said that the it was important to know how the relationship feature actually works.
You can see your couple page - if you are paired up, that is - via the cosy "www.facebook.com/us" address. Others can see this too by clicking on "in a relationship" on your timeline.
Facebook's spokeswoman said: "It doesn't change any of your information, but just uses what is already there and you can add or delete content as you wish. If you don't want to use it then you don't have to."
It will be hyperlinked from the relationship status itself, but existing privacy settings will not change - so if this is something you have never made public, that will remain the case.
Facebook said the friendship feature could be used for birthdays or retirements, to show the history of purely platonic relationships.
Anna Leach, a reporter at technology website The Register, said in some ways, the feature was just a tweak - but in others, it was symptomatic of the "twee, interfering, Coca-Cola marketing friendly graveyard of web 2.0 that Facebook has become."
Facebook has always been in control of your data. Anna Leach, The Register
She told Channel 4 News: "Essentially Facebook has been remixing content like this since 2010, when they first did friendship pages. It's the symbolic import of creating a couple page for people that seems like more than just cutting and pasting.
"Everyone should be aware that when they put something on Facebook, it's not their private property anymore. This shows that shift in control because it's a personal area in people's lives. Facebook has always been in control of your data, but this seems more interfering."
Beyond the arguments over privacy, there could be other pitfalls ahead for this new feature.
To put it plainly, for anyone who is ditched, gazing upon the highlights of their erstwhile relationship could well bring on horrifying bouts of Bridget Jones-esque self pity.
But perhaps even worse - whether you are single or in a couple - is the horrifying prospect that it has just got easier for that certain kind of happy couple (and we all know them) to share every single, joyful moment of their perfect pairing with all of their Facebook friends.
For all of our sakes, shouldn't some things stay private?
20 May 2012
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