Daily Archives: November 30, 2007

Facebook’s Beacon Retreat

It appears that Facebook has heeded its critics and subscriber protests. While Facebook has not chosen to scrap its Beacon advertising system altogether, it has agreed to modify it so that users must explicitly choose to "opt-in" to the program before having their online purchases and product reviews shared with other Facebook users while logged into the service.

Here’s an excerpt from an AP story that hit the wires this morning:

Under the changes outlined late Thursday, Facebook’s 55 million users will be given greater control over whether they want to participate in a three-week-old program that circulates potentially sensitive information about their online purchases and other activities.

Facebook provided two different opportunities to block the details from being shared, but many users said they never saw the "opt-out" notices before they disappeared from the screen.

With the reforms, Facebook promised its users will now have to give their explicit consent, or "opt-in," before any information is passed along.

The concessions were made after more than 50,000 Facebook users signed an online petition blasting the system, called "Beacon," as a galling intrusion that put the Palo Alto-based startup’s pursuit of profit ahead of its members’ privacy interests.

Facebook users must remain vigilant. The company has demonstrated that it will sacrifice the privacy of its subscribers to justify and maintain its exalted market valuation of $15 billion. Stakes that high can skew people’s sense of propriety, with fear and greed tending to override salutary sensibilities — not to mention logic and reason, which can get shunted aside in the mad dash for big money.

The motivations and pressures that resulted in Facebook’s Beacon plan, which basically transformed its users into unpaid shills with no claims to privacy, are still in operation. Facebook cannot be trusted to deal honestly and openly with the people who use its services. Caveat emptor.