One of the most recent and noticeable updates to Facebook in recent weeks is the addition of a birthday notification. Now, just like the notification from a comment on your status, you’ll get a little red reminder at the top of your screen that today is someone’s birthday.

Why? Why did Facebook expend time, effort and money to have their programmers develop this feature? Why do they care about birthdays? And why is it so difficult to disable these notifications?

Regardless of how you feel about birthdays, if you have hundreds of Facebook friends, this feature is just one more notification on top of so many more. Facebook’s automatic birthday reminders have robbed much of the genuine meaning from this interaction. You don’t even have to keep track of birthdays – Facebook does it for you. Then, when your own birthday comes along, you’re bombarded with vague messages from people you haven’t spoken to in years. Is it just me, or is this approach to birthdays completely off the mark?

I hypothesize that Facebook is trying to get away from their growing reputation as a sort of shopaholic Big Brother. This emphasis on birthdays is one of the few built-in ways they can drive more Facebook interaction between users that is based on genuine friendship instead of marketing. It strongly resembles an attempt to make users feel more at home on Facebook. In addition, Facebook rolled this feature out without announcing it, and opted everybody in by default. If they were developing this feature as a special treat for us, don’t you think they would have at least mentioned it, and tried to pass it off as a great new feature? The underlying message behind their decision to force this on everyone is that they need everyone to participate, and that they know people are very unlikely to opt in.

Some people love birthdays, whether it’s their own birthday or someone else’s, but others do not like to acknowledge them at all. As such, Facebook’s notification feature can seem like an embarrassing, self-centered announcement to those who prefer to keep their birthday details private. The only way you can ensure that your Facebook connections will not be notified on your birthday is to go into your Facebook settings and change the audience for your birthday so that nobody can see the month or day on your profile.

Another motivation is that Facebook wants you to spend money. Facebook prompts its users to spend money on each other for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and more. When you write a “happy birthday” message to a friend, as soon as you click send or hit send, you’re confronted with options for gifts from a variety of well-known stores and brands. This feature applies to more than just birthday messages and can seem ludicrously inappropriate when compared to real-life interactions. For example, if someone said to you “Your friend just got a new girlfriend? Why don’t you buy them a $20 Target gift card?” you would most likely laugh in their face. But really- this happens all the time on Facebook these days!

Facebook is clearly pushing the idea that relationships = spending money. This is simply not true. Because Facebook eliminates so much of the effort involved in keeping in touch, it has managed to get a foothold in our private lives like no other form of technology that I can think of. I believe Facebook is attempting to condition us to feel comfortable using a platform that is based on money, transactions, and marketing. It’s up to us, as individuals, to resist, and no, resistance isn’t futile in this case!

Many users have taken to the message boards in the Facebook Help Center and on non-Facebook websites to decry the new features and to share their frustrations. Through these, I was able to find a way to disable the birthday notifications. It seems that my only option was to use my device (I have an iPhone) and change the settings within the Facebook app (details below). Hopefully changing these settings will mean that I will no longer receive birthday notifications in any form at all. It seems to be working so far… but you never know!

As Facebook embraces mobile more and more, they are beginning to neglect the full version of their site. I would be interested in seeing how these settings are presented to someone who has not registered any devices using their Facebook account.

How to disable birthday notifications on Facebook (using an iPhone 4S)

1. Log into the Facebook app

2. Click the “More” icon in the bottom right of the screen (three horizontal lines).

3. Scroll down and select “Settings”.

4. Select “Notifications”.

5. Scroll down and select “Mobile Push”.

6. Scroll down and deselect “Birthday Reminder”.