Facebook may have found a new tool to pry more valuable data from its 1.28 billion active accounts: its users. The social network recently rolled out an "Ask" button that will appear next to the relationship status of users who have chosen not to publicly disclose the information. With the new feature, a curious user can send a formal request for the other user's status, along with a short note explaining why he or she would like to know. It looks like this:
The button appears to be billed as a new take on one of Facebook's oldest and most iconic features, and some are seeing it as a new (and definitely peculiar) way to flirt online. It's also a clever way for the company to learn more about its users. By adding the box, Facebook is quietly reminding others that a user has chosen not to divulge the information and is leveraging its most curious users to mine more data.
Once requested, the user can refuse to give up the information or choose to share the information privately. Yet even when shared privately, the relationship disclosure alters your profile settings and creates a life event if you happen to be in a relationship.
What's unclear, however, is what the company plans to do with this information, if anything at all. Like with most user data, there is a fear that the privately shared information could still be used in Facebook's targeted ad services. The "Ask" button appears on other areas of a user's profile, but in the case of relationship status, it's a piece of personal data that some may be more reluctant to share than, say, employment.
Facebook did not immediately return BuzzFeed's request for comment; however, when asked by Ars Technica, a Facebook rep did not answer questions about how private response data would be handled.
A Facebook rep issued the following statement to BuzzFeed: "While certain information like relationship statuses can be used for targeting purposes, the goal of this particular feature is to provide an easy way for friends to ask you for information."
When asked to clarify if privately shared information from the button would be used for targeting purposes, Facebook told BuzzFeed the information can be used for targeting but won't be shared with advertisers. "Things you share with Facebook can be used to improve our targeting and show you better ads; however, none of that information is shared with advertisers," the rep said via email.