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Online protests force Facebook to change how its controversial "Beacon" advertising technology works

04 Dec

More than 66,000 users sign a petition and demand to have more control over the stories that get published through Beacon to their Mini-Feed and potentially to their friends’ News Feeds.

Beacon is one of Facebook’s “business solutions” which can be used by any company to – as the famous social network claims on its “advertisers section” – “enable your customers to share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends”.

 

That means when Facebook users shop online, Beacon will tell their friends what they browsed or bought. Many companies have signed up to use Beacon on their websites including Blockbuster, Overstock.com and Fandango.com.

 

However, this new, promising to some, technology actually backfired as users and activist groups were concerned with the privacy issues that might be at risk. Moveon.org was actually at the first line of the protests against Beacon and the way it worked. Until Facebook agreed to change how it works, Beacon was an “opt-out” system and many users repetitively complained that they didn’t have the chance to “opt-out” and as a consequence had information about their purchasing whereabouts shared with their Facebook friends.

 

Since 20/11 more than 66,000 users joined a Facebook group called “Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!” which has links to Moveon.org page where one can sign the online petition. The group’s description reads:

 

Matt in New York already knows what his girlfriend got him for Christmas… Why? Because a new Facebook feature automatically shares books, movies, or gifts you buy online with everyone you know on Facebook. Without your consent, it pops up in your News Feed–a huge invasion of privacy.

 

On 28/11, Paul Janzer, a Facebook customer support representative, responded to the users’ complaints with a post at the abovementioned group’s discussion board. Below you can read his full post:

 

Thanks for your feedback about Facebook Beacon, it has definitely helped us make some changes to the product that we hope will provide you with a better experience on Facebook. Beacon was designed to help you share all the interesting things that you are doing outside of Facebook with your friends. Just like you have full control over your information on Facebook, you decide whether or not you want Beacon stories to be published and from which site.  

Your feedback has made it clear that Beacon can be kind of confusing. To fix this, we are clarifying the way we inform you about a Beacon story before you decide whether or not you’d like to publish it on Facebook. We’re also working on making the sites that offer Beacon more visible to you, both on Facebook and through visual cues, so you can determine which specific sites you can publish stories from. Also, we’re providing more information on how Beacon works through a new tutorial and expanded help pages.

We’re sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans. We are really trying to provide you with new meaningful ways, like Beacon, to help you connect and share information with your friends. Thanks for taking the time to express your opinions about our products. Please keep the feedback coming as we continuously work to improve your Facebook experience.

 

On 30/11 Facebook apparently changed how Beacon works and instead of someone opting-out, now he or she will have to “opt-in” in order to have the actions taken on a website that uses Beacon shared with their Facebook friends. Facebook also issued a special announcement regarding this change. Below you can read the changes Facebook did to Beacon:


“Facebook Update on Changes to Beacon”  

“No stories will be published without users proactively consenting”

We appreciate feedback from all Facebook users and made some changes to Beacon in the past day. Users now have more control over the stories that get published to their Mini-Feed and potentially to their friends’ News Feeds. Here’s how the Beacon changes work:

– 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.

These changes are in addition to those made earlier to improve the notifications on partner sites as follows:

– Users were sometimes moving away from a page before a notification could be fully displayed. We changed the process so that we confirm the full display of the notification before any information can be sent back to a user’s Facebook account.

– The notification appears more rapidly and is more clearly displayed.

There has been misinformation in the market about some key aspects of how Beacon works:

– Participation in Beacon is free for all partner sites.

– Beacon only allows for the sharing of specific actions on the specific sites participating in Beacon.

– Beacon only has the potential to display actions to a selection of a user’s friends through News Feed and on a user’s Mini-Feed.

– Facebook is not sharing user information with participating sites and never sells user information.

As with all its products, Facebook will continue to iterate quickly and listen to feedback from its users.”

It looks like for once online protests forced a major social networking site to change the way its advertising technology works. Would that be the beginning of a new era where users can actually have a say on how things work at the places they socialize? Since online advertising is gaining market share and online social networks is the new marketers’ battleground, only time will tell if new, online advertising technologies will be reasons for more protests from users that are truly concerned for their privacy.


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1 Comment

Posted by on December 4, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One response to “Online protests force Facebook to change how its controversial "Beacon" advertising technology works

  1. Anonymous

    October 26, 2008 at 7:45 am

    >I wish I had never created a Facebook account! I’m sick of this society’s Big Brother machinations, and no matter how polite the euphemisms are, the fact is that everything revolves around GREED – and to hell with anyone or anything that doesn’t generate profit for the Corporate Beast!

     

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