Maybe Facebook Users Should Think About Breaking a Bad Habit

Maybe I don’t understand the so-called Facebook Generation, but I think it’s time Facebook users started doing more than protest against the social-networking website’s online tracking and broadcasting of their online purchases.

Facebook’s Beacon system not only tracks where subscribers go online while their logged into the site, but it also sends news alerts to users’ friends about the goods and services they buy and view online. It then will run ads alongside these alerts for products or services associated with the purchases.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the New York Times about protests against Beacon and Facebook’s apparent determination to resist making concessions to its users:

Under Beacon, when Facebook members purchase movie tickets on Fandango.com, for example, Facebook sends a notice about what movie they are seeing in the News Feed on all of their friends’ pages. If a user saves a recipe on Epicurious.com or rates travel venues on NYTimes.com, friends are also notified. There is an opt-out box that appears for a few seconds, but users complain that it is hard to find. Mr. Palihapitiya said Facebook is making the boxes larger and holding them on the Web pages longer.

Adam Green, a spokesman for MoveOn.org Civic Action, said that the organization was not satisfied with the changes and thought that Facebook should offer an opt-out to remove users from Beacon altogether with one click, and make sure it does not share private purchases at any time without permission.

The whole purpose of Beacon is to allow advertisers to run ads next to these purchase messages. A message about someone’s purchase on Travelocity might run alongside an airline or hotel ad, for example. Mr. Zuckerberg heralded the new ads in early November as being like a “recommendation from a trusted friend.”

I gave Facebook a try a while back, but I have no intention of returning to or otherwise patronizing a service that is so cavalier in its willingness to violate the privacy and trust of its subscribers. That said, some of Facebook’s avid users seem confused about how to respond the service’s privacy incursions:

“We know we don’t have a right to privacy, but there still should be a certain morality here, a certain level of what is private in our lives,” said Tricia Bushnell, a 25-year-old in Los Angeles, who has used Facebook since her college days at Bucknell. “Just because I belong to Facebook, do I now have to be careful about everything else I do on the Internet?”

Facebook has let it be known that it will exploit its denizens for all they’re worth. If it persists in doing so, the people who’ve made Facebook successful by patronizing it should withhold or rescind their support. That’s the only power a consumer has at his or her disposal, whether online or in the world of bricks-and-mortar retailers.

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