In the wake of mounting criticism, Facebook executives are discussing changes to a controversial advertising tool that publicizes users’ Web activities outside of the popular social network. Alterations to the recently introduced Beacon system could be announced as early as Nov. 29, BusinessWeek.com has learned.
Executives of the three-year-old company were in deep talks over proposed changes late into the afternoon on Nov. 28, according to a person familiar with the matter. At issue is the Beacon program, which alerts members’ Facebook “friends” to purchases and other activities on third-party Web sites. A spokesperson for the company declined to discuss changes, reiterating an earlier statement: “Facebook is listening to feedback from its users and committed to evolving Beacon.”
I’m worried that any action will be too little and too late.
In September of 2006, Facebook launched the mini-feed, ignoring (as I’ve mentioned previously) how the new “feature” impacted the norms of personal information flows — that the contextual integrity of the flow of information within Facebook was disrupted. When they tried to address the concern, the expanded privacy settings were defaulted to the maximum sharing of personal information — hardly a stance revealing a commitment to protecting user privacy. (We also must not forget that the mini-feed was automatically activated for every user.)
Now, a year later, they repeat the same mistakes. In pursuit of advertising revenue, Facebook builds a system whereby Facebook cookies are retrieved at third-party e-commerce sites, users are given 20-seconds to opt out (the default is to participate, and the screen disappears with the option still checked if no action is taken), and users’ likenesses are appropriated to shill for products. With all this, Facebook has again disrupted the contextual integrity of personal information flows, and made it difficult for users to opt-out of the potentially privacy-threatening situation.
I fear any attempt by the execs at Facebook to save face (and stave off an FTC investigation) will fall short.
QUICK UPDATE: Facebook has indeed made changes — more here.