By Andrew Barr
Users of the social networking site Facebook have reacted angrily to changes which replace displayed personal e-mail addresses with Facebook’s own brand of address.
The changes mean that new Facebook addresses can connect with contacts outside of the site, driving more people to communicate via the social network and consequently driving up advertising sales.
Many users had previously displayed ordinary Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail addresses on their profiles so that users could contact them from outside Facebook. The changes ensure that any messages sent to the new Facebook brand addresses arrive into the Facebook profile accounts instead of Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail inboxes.
Users have complained about the “annoying” changes to the site, but Facebook has sought to reassure them that the @Facebook.com e-mail address is not compulsory.
"We are providing every Facebook user with his or her own Facebook email address because we find that many users find it useful to connect with each other, but using Facebook email is completely up to you," said a statement from the company.
Anthony Mullen, interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research, claimed that Facebook’s decision could backfire.
He said: "It reeks of the same move Google did with its Buzz product when it automatically opted people in, and users recoiled against the action.
"This is a direction Facebook needs to move in - your email is a proxy for your identity on the internet and Facebook want to usurp people's pre-existing email identities with their own to help drive up traffic to its site and lock users into its service.
"The problem is the lack of transparency - it has acted without asking for members' permission first."
Facebook has a record of making changes to the functions of the website which have irritated or angered its users, although usually only temporarily. Facebook users can reset their profiles to reverse the changes by going to the “about” section and editing the “Contact Info”.
In other changes to the social network, Facebook has dropped a controversial new feature that allowed users to view a list of other people using the website nearby.
A spokeswoman for Facebook claimed that the new feature was only being tested.
"This wasn't a formal release -- this was something that a few engineers were testing,” wrote the spokeswoman. “With all tests, some get released as full products, others don't. Nothing more to say on this for now -- we'll communicate to everyone when there is something to say."
A company named Friendthem claimed on Monday that the location-tracking concept was its own idea, and threatened the much more powerful Facebook with a lawsuit.
The latest controversies followed the recent flotation of the company that sparked controversy after claims were made that some investors had been given 'inside information' prior to the share flotation. The flotation eventually went ahead after glitches caused a delay, share prices subsequently fell.