MENLO PARK: Facebook, the social networking giant, has responded to criticism on several fronts, following a court ruling on its Sponsored Stories offering and a new survey suggesting the platform could undermine users' wellbeing.
After the $20m settlement of a court case about its Sponsored Stories advertisements, Facebook has promised to give users more control over how their content is shared.
A class action claimed that Facebook shared users' "Likes" of advertisers with their friends, effectively acting as an endorsement, without paying them or allowing them to opt out.
A US District Judge said the settlement, "while not incorporating all features that some of the objectors might prefer, has significant value".
Aside from the $20m to compensate members of the class action, lawyers estimated the changes to privacy involved could be worth up to $145m, according to Reuters.
Court filings also showed that Facebook had charged advertisers $234m for Sponsored Stories between January 2011 and August 2012.
The whole premise of Facebook, however, was questioned by the findings of a new survey from the University of Michigan.
"Rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive 'offline' social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults – it may undermine it," the study concluded.
Professor Ethan Kross told Fast Company that because people tended to post information that made their lives appear to be great, "frequent exposure to such information could lead people to feel worse about their own lives".
He said that this was "one potential explanation" and other factors were likely to be at work as well, including a lack of interaction with other people directly.
The court ruling came a week after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, arguing that connectivity is a human right, announced plans for a new venture, Internet.org, a consortium that aims to get the world's population online.
Speaking to Wired, he rejected criticism that he was simply trying to find new customers for his network.
"If we wanted to focus on just making money, the right strategy for us would be to focus solely on the developed countries and the people already on Facebook, increasing their engagement rather than having these other folks join," he reasoned.
"Our service is free, and there aren't developed ad markets in a lot of these countries," he added.
He said that anyone with a phone should be able to access the internet and outlined a vision where basic services were free. "I'm talking about things like messages, Wikipedia, search engines, social networks, weather access, commodities prices," he explained.
Data sourced from Reuters, Fast Company, Wired; additional content by Warc staff