Facebook “Microstatus” Feature Draws Fire

Erin BarkleySunday, November 25, 2007
This post is part of Push the Third Button Twice, a ~2 month adventure where I would write parody articles based on the news as it happened — in 15 minutes or less. The posts are credited to my a fictional "staff", but they're actually all me. I apologize in advance.

Online social meeting site Facebook.com faced increased pressure Sunday to remove a new feature it has been testing for the last week, which allows users’ friends to see exactly what they are doing at all times, day or night.

“The problem with the Microstatus program is that you can’t turn it off,” said Josh Maxington of Intoper Systems. “Sure, sometimes it’s nice that they know when I’m tired or going out for a bite to eat… but when I wake up in the morning and my status history is filled with things like ‘Josh rolled over in his sleep’, and ‘Josh stretched his ass and yawned’… that’s going overboard.”

The feature, which was developed in conjunction with Google’s Street View service, keeps tabs on each and every user of Facebook at all times with infrared and satellite imagery, as well as phone taps and advanced email parsing. Every time the “target” performs an action, a Facebook employee known as a Mobile Status Updater (nicknamed “stalkers”) writes an account and posts it to that user’s status feed. In addition, if there are any purchasable items involved, those are linked to an affiliate’s online store so “friends” can easily purchase the same product.

“At least with the old ad system, you could claim you were buying the thing for a friend,” said Marcy Wilburry, 20, of Camden, NJ. “But when it says ‘Marcy is clumsily applying the gonorrhea ointment’, there’s not much you can do but change your name and start a new life somewhere else.”

But sources inside Facebook say even that won’t work, since the Microstatus stalkers will report any name or address changes to the feed as they happen. And while some users have managed to opt out of the program, anti-Facebook forums are filling up with complaints that not everyone has “a first-born’s immortal soul” to trade for freedom from constant supervision.

Still, others think the service isn’t as bad as it seems.

“It’s like totally great,” said Mandi Harper, 17, of Bellvue, CA. “It’s like, before, when I was like totally hammered out of my mind, like, I couldn’t hit the buttons on my phone to like update my status! I know! So like now, when I’m puking in the toilet, like all my friends can see how totally awesome my afternoon was! LOLZ!”

No Facebook employees would comment for this story, citing “there is no such thing as ‘off the record’ anymore”.

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