Nearly 750 tweets bombard the web every second. Internet traffic is growing by 40 per cent a year. People post 2.5 billion photos on Facebook every month. Every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube.

But who owns all that data? Until now, big business was in complete control and used the data to monetise operations. But all that is set to change. With Facebook launching two new features, ‘Groups' and a ‘Download your information,' the community is making a comeback.

More control over data

If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is to be believed, users now have more control over who sees their data and how much. They can also bundle up their entire social graph (as a zip file) and walk away to another service.

‘Groups' tries to tackle one of Facebook's long-standing problems. On Facebook, everyone, from your boss to your long-lost school friend, is a “friend.” And this means annoying, sometimes embarrassing situations.

An easy way to form small private groups on a social network, as we do in real life, is the “biggest problem in social networking,” Mr. Zuckerberg told journalists after the announcement.

The Groups feature allows you to form small circles of friends. Up to 300 Groups per user are allowed, and the tool also allows Group chat and emails. The groups can be open, closed, or secret, depending on the privacy settings.

Gaurav Mishra, Director (Digital and Social Media), MS&L Group, Asia-Pacific, says this step is important for Facebook, given the rising competition in social networking.

With alternatives on the horizon, such as Diaspora, which is being designed as an open-source, privacy-conscious social network, and Google's plans to integrate social networking elements into its services through ‘Google Me,' Facebook has to take up this “strategic pre-emptive move,” says Mr. Mishra.

But the Groups feature comes with its own baggage. It is not ‘opt in.' A friend can add you to the Group, and you get to decide whether you want to be in it or not. It appears that in the trade-off between giving the user more control and encouraging use, Facebook has chosen the latter.

Users will also have to be prepared for more noise as the new features offer a mirage of secure conversation space that will encourage them to share more personal details.

“The amount of sharing will go up massively and will be completely addictive,” Mr. Zuckerberg predicted.

Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, Centre for Internet and Society, says: “Facebook has always taken a more promiscuous approach to configuring our social behaviour online, the primary motivation being the maximisation of user transactions and consequently profits.”

According to him, the logic of adding a user to a group without seeking permission first makes a lot of assumptions, including that you check your account regularly to do early damage control and that your friends follow best security practices.

“I would warn people not to do anything on a Facebook group — open, closed or secret — that they would not do on email.”

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