Most of us have learned by now that it’s better not to include your relationship status in your Facebook profile, even if you’re “In a relationship” or “Married.” There are concerns about advertisers knowing too much about you, for one thing; and having to announce a breakup on Facebook is the digital equivalent of throwing salt in an open wound, for another.
Listing yourself as “Single,” meanwhile, can get a little lonely.
Now Facebook has rolled out a new feature that allows anyone within your social network to prod you into sharing that private relationship information, as well as other bits of info, either privately or on your public profile. This feature, called Ask, lets your friends request that you share your hometown, current city, address, phone number, and — you betcha — relationship status, if you haven’t already filled them out online.
The option is now available to all Facebook members. There is no way to turn the feature off, or to prevent your friends from bugging you to fill out the more sensitive areas of your profile. A Facebook representative told Yahoo Tech that, if you don’t want the requester to know given information, you can simply ignore the Asks you receive from your nosy buddies.
The feature works like this: Anyone who’s interested in learning some extra details about a Facebook friend can go to her profile. Underneath her main profile picture, there’s a generic About section. Most people, especially those who are conscious about their privacy, don’t fill these in. And even if you’re willing to share your hometown, you might have skipped Relationship Status (for the reasons I mentioned above).
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 person you send a request to will see it in her notifications, along with your comment.
Here’s what it looks like to reply to a relationship status update.
At the bottom of the page, there’s a pre-checked box that says “Only share this info with [the person who’s asking].” In some options, you can actually indicate who you’re in a relationship with. You also have an option to include a short message with your reply.
Once you click Save, the info will make its way back to the requester in the form of a post in her News Feed. It’ll show up in your News Feed too, but no one else’s.
But here’s where it gets tricky! Let’s say another friend asks my relationship status and, for my own personal reasons, I want to tell him something different from the person who asked before. In our tests, even if I make sure the box at the bottom of the Relationship Status options is checked to “only share this info” with the person asking, my relationship status will change universally on the site. Though it won’t show up in anyone else’s News Feed, anyone I’ve previously shared my relationship status with in the past will be able to see that change if she manually returns to my About section and looks.
Needless to say, this could get a lot of people in trouble. In general, these are conversations that should probably be kept offline. And the fact that there is no “ignore” button built in yet is pretty disconcerting. You can simply not respond to the request, but then it won’t disappear.
It is true that many foreign countries use Facebook as a dating service. For those that do, this feature will serve as a nifty way to get info on the object of your Facebook affection. For Facebook, meanwhile, the Ask function is a clever, covert method to collect valuable data about its members, so that advertisers can serve more targeted ads.
Many people probably feel reluctant about airing their personal details to the world; now Facebook is leveraging peer pressure to get you to do so. It takes only one curious buddy to give Facebook access to your data. Tread lightly, friends.