Facebook Beacon – A Debate

I had a great email conversation with a couple of colleagues at work today about the furor over Facebook’s Beacon application. With their permission, I’m posting the conversation here (with their names removed) for your thoughts:

Subject: Facebook Beacon

ME: The latest in a loooong series of stories this week about Facebook’s Beacon system:
http://valleywag.com/tech/your-privacy-is-an-illusion/does-facebook-hate-christmas-327664.php

Typing emailCOLLEAGUE A: Yep had read that – amazing how old people haven’t realized young people don’t see it the same way anymore. The whole concept of privacy is changing, inevitably, due to technology.

ME: I think they’ve made a mistake not forcing companies to let people opt in rather than the reverse, though. The story about a guy who bought an engagement ring & whose girlfriend found out about it through that system is particularly compelling (although… seriously…. who buys an engagement ring on Overstock.com???)

COLLEAGUE A: They forced News updates about all our friends and everyone complained – now its become the core value of FB everyone loves…

ME: Very true & I agree that young people have a different view of things, but when it comes to things done outside Facebook I think that crosses the line if there’s no option to opt-out. If I bought [my girlfriend] a Christmas present from Company A, I’d be pretty pissed if it showed up in my news feed & she found out about it.

They should at least force companies to flash up a "We’re posting this to your Facebook profile – are you ok with that?" message.

(on a separate note, remember that most new users are over 35 on Facebook now…. they’re not just dealing with youngsters any more)

COLLEAGUE A: Is it up to Facebook or Company A? πŸ™‚

COLLEAGUE B: I’d say Company A. (I give my personal & financial info for the sole purpose of making a purchase, and nothing else — and they do say something like this before you get to the "secure access" pages). πŸ˜›

As for Facebook, they’ve got this bit of legalese on their privacy page:

"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience."

ME: Company A, for sure, but Facebook should have a terms of service for companies that mandates it.

—————

Interestingly, it appears Facebook has actually listened to user concerns this time. As reported late today (see here and here):

Stories about actions users take on external websites will continue to be presented to users at the top of their News Feed the next time they return to Facebook. These stories will now always be expanded on their home page so they can see and read them clearly.

Users must click on “OK” in a new initial notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story is published to their friends from each participating site. We recognize that users need to clearly understand Beacon before they first have a story published, and we will continue to refine this approach to give users choice.

If a user does nothing with the initial notification on Facebook, it will hide after some duration without a story being published. When a user takes a future action on a Beacon site, it will reappear and display all the potential stories along with the opportunity to click “OK” to publish or click “remove” to not publish.

Users will have clear options in ongoing notifications to either delete or publish. No stories will be published if users navigate away from their home page. If they delay in making this decision, the notification will hide and they can make a decision at a later time.

Clicking the “Help” link next to the story will take users to a full tutorial that explains exactly how Beacon works, with screenshots showing each step in the process.

Thank goodness. I applaud this move by Facebook, despite how late in the game it came. I was beginning to think I’d have to ‘opt out’ of the whole site.

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  • Dave,

    I think the fact that they listened to their audience means something. If they continue to do so, I think they will be around for a while to come.

  • Hi Shama,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree – provided they continue to listen to their users and remember what brought them to the site in the first place, Facebook should succeed.

    Scott Karp wrote a great post today about the lessons Facebook (and Google) can learn from the Beacon experience – it’s interesting reading.