Facebook Retreats Somewhat on Beacon Privacy

In response to a growing revolt by its members, and particularly an online protest organized by MoveOn.org, on Friday Facebook quietly retreated somewhat in implementation of some of its new privacy-invasive advertising plans.

Apparently the “Beacon” feature, which tells your Facebook “friends” when you buy something from a participating retailer, will shift from an opt-out (and a relatively quick and unnoticeable opt-out at that) to an affirmative opt-in. Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian quotes Facebook’s explanation of the details:

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.

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.

That sounds like a big improvement, because it seems to indicate a turn toward reliance on true consent for disclosing information. Why couldn’t they have just avoided the grief and set it up that way to start? And have they learned their lesson for the future this time?

I don’t see any indication that parallel changes are being made in the Social Ads program, which I’ve complained about more than once as potentially unlawful. The irony: I can’t think of any underlying privacy law that requires me to get your consent before publicizing what you purchased at the store, as Beacon does (unless it’s something very personal like birth control). In contrast, there is underlying privacy law requiring consent for endorsement uses of your persona. Yet almost all of the anger from users has focused on Beacon and not Social Ads. Perhaps this is a further indication that historically-bound privacy law has become even more disconnected from prevailing social norms in the social networking environment.

One Response to “Facebook Retreats Somewhat on Beacon Privacy”

  1. [...] unwanted disclosures as a result of the Facebook Ads system, particularly the Beacon feature, even long after reforms intended to eliminate privacy problems. Beacon, you may remember, transmits information about your [...]