Switching off the Beacon

Facebook finally owned up to the fact that they really did a poor job implementing Beacon, a “service” that provides way too much information about your buying habits (from the Wall Street Journal; subscription may be required):

After weeks of criticism over a new advertising program that was perceived as a privacy threat, Facebook Inc. has tweaked its privacy settings and offered a public apology from its chief executive — but advertisers remain wary.

The program, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled last month, allows Facebook to track its users’ activities, such as purchases, on third-party Web sites that partner with the social-networking site and broadcast them to the users’ friends. For instance, Facebook users could receive messages telling them that a friend had bought a sweater on Overstock.com or a movie ticket on Fandango.com. Called Beacon, the program was intended to give advertisers a way “into the conversations between people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

But the program raised the ire of privacy advocates and users, who said Facebook didn’t clearly explain how users could prevent information from being shared and didn’t give them a way to opt out entirely. The advocacy organization MoveOn.org Civic Action, for one, formed a group complaining about the way Beacon had been implemented. As of yesterday afternoon, the group had close to 70,000 members.

In a Facebook blog, Mr. Zuckerberg yesterday wrote, “We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.” He added that Facebook users can now adjust their privacy settings to opt out of the Beacon program entirely…more

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At least Mr. Zuckerberg did the right thing, made a plain-spoken apology, and reacted to the concerns by making changes.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to broadcast this much information about themselves – but then again, I don’t “get” Twitter for the same reason…

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One Response to Switching off the Beacon

  1. Hi Steve, I agree on the shoulder shrug re: personal transparency, but if it’s ‘opt in’ kids can CHOOSE to share every freakin movie seen or purchase made among themselves …the ‘opt out’ is subversive, blatant hijacking of one’s own agency (not to mention horrific marketing judgment on the user good will front) and Mr. Z. should get more than a wrist slap for that one.

    As you can see by my post here, “Facebook, your peepin’ is creepin’ me out”
    http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=810
    And this follow up, “Dare to share? What’s your beacon FB story?” http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=818 (with a gazillion storyline updates in the commentary links)
    there’s an even bigger issue than the ‘oops I should’ve asked’ and mea culpa factor.

    It’s about returning “choice” and “privacy control” over to the users not the dollar-driven opportunists.

    On the positive side, this speaks well for the rapidfire capacity for social media mobilization (yes, I was one of the 70,000 ‘stay outta my feeds’ peeps) on the down side, it appalls me that the ol’ “ask forgiveness rather than permission” antics have become a marketing strategy…

    And don’t even get me started about the data collection still being ‘stored’….ugh. There’s a REASON why our industry gets such a bad rap…

    It’ll be interesting to see what the EU’s new report and ENISA convening last week has to say about all of this. Here’s the link…the digital dossiers alone are disturbing. bleh.
    http://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_social_networks.pdf

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