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Facebook Gifts: Great for friends, bad for privacy?

Facebook’s 945 million users can now send actual gifts (not just virtual hugs and hearts) to their friends. But will this new feature lead people to over-share on Facebook?

By Pamela Cyran / September 28, 2012

A preview of Facebook Gifts.

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Everyone loves when “happy birthday” messages show up on their walls, but Facebook’s team realized what users would love even more: real, tangible gifts.

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Facebook is all about sharing, whether it’s through comments, posts, links, videos, photos, or even game requests. Now users have something new to share, Facebook Gifts, which allows users to send and receive real presents with just a few clicks.

According to Facebook’s announcement Thursday afternoon, users can first choose a gift and attach a digital card to send to their friend through Facebook. The gift can post on their friend’s timeline or in a private message. The friend will then get to virtually unwrap the gift (and even make changes of equal value) before accepting it. The sender can choose to pay Facebook immediately, or wait until the friend accepts the gift and enters in the shipping information. The physical present arrives later in the mail.

Facebook partnered with various vendors and will continue to gradually add more. Pictures on the Facebook announcement show that the company already partnered with Starbucks and several bakeries. Other pictures show Angry Birds and Star Wars plushies as possible gifts.

“Facebook didn’t say in its release how the revenue from goods gets split between it and its partners, but its built-in audience of 945 million users is already a draw for many companies,” reports the Washington Post.

The Post also says that in order for Facebook Gifts to work, users will need to trust Facebook more than ever by willingly entering in addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers.

Considering Facebook’s prior history with privacy concerns, this may cause an issue.

In a report from Computer World, some security experts are concerned about the security and privacy implications of this new Facebook program. Bogdan Botezatu, a senior cyber-threat analyst at antivirus vendor Bitdefender, said the amount of private information publicly shared on Facebook “already exceeds all security precautions.”

Facebook users constantly update their statuses with information revealing where they are (now shown on a map with the feature, “check in”), who they’re with, what they’re eating or wearing, and generally every detail about their daily adventures. Facebook critics say this is a big opening for stalkers.

"The new information that might be shared by users is particularly dangerous in the case of account compromise," says Botezatu in the Computer World article.

Home addresses combined with other information commonly shared could make it very easy for burglars to select potential victims and plan raids, he says.

Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, says users would be more open to sharing their birthdays, reported the Computer World article.

“Anytime you provide information to complete the mosaic of your life, you're putting yourself in harm's way,” says Levin in the article. 

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