Facebook Apologizes (Sorta); Creates Global Opt-Out (Supposedly)

The Wall Street Journal and others point to today’s apology by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for the Beacon fiasco.

However, rather than apologizing for creating a pervasive tool for tracking and collecting user purchasing habits across the Web, or for making default settings difficult to change, or for initially making it opt-out rather than opt-in, for making false statements that Facebook doesn’t collect the data even if the user declines to share it with friends, or for collecting data on non-Facebook users, Zuckerberg basically apologizes for doing “a bad job with this release.”

Gee, they’re sorry they didn’t release Beacon properly. No worries about what it does, just that they “took too long to decide” on changes and responses to criticisms. Zuckerberg says “I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.” Yeah, I sure hope the primary lesson they learn here is about better communications. Not that there was anything wrong with the product itself. Geesh.

For more reaction, see Mitch Betts, who does an excellent job pointing out a need for attention to ethics within Facebook, much like my call for value-conscious design. (He also provides a nice reading list from the field of ethics & technology).

Moving on, Facebook has released a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here. If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.

At least that’s what they say. Of course, they’ve also said, when asked whether Facebook would receive information about a user’s purchase if the user declined to broadcast the purchase to his Facebook friends, “Absolutely not. One of the things we are still trying to do is dispel a lot of misinformation that is being propagated unnecessarily.” That, of course, turned out to be untrue.

My trust in Facebook is seriously lacking. Since they themselves were guilty of “unnecessarily propagating misinformation” regarding how Beacon works, can I really trust their claims regarding the privacy protecting this setting is supposed to offer?

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