Facebook sticks by its guns over intrusive Beacon advertising feed

November 30, 2007

Facebook sticks by its guns over intrusive Beacon advertising feed Despite the fact that users are expressing their dislike of the new Beacon advertising News Feed, Facebook is saying it will stick by the new feature.

Introduced only a few weeks ago, Beacon, places information in your News Feed that shows your friends what interactions you have had with some third party websites such as Yelp.com and Fandango.com.  While each site features an opt out option, it was only good for that one site and was difficult to spot sometimes.

While users have been asking for the service to either be discontinued all together, or change it to an “opt-in” system, Facebook is making some small concessions.

  1. The opt out boxes will load faster in a hope to ensure the users see them.
  2. Facebook will be able to tell if the option loaded and the user was given the opportunity
  3. If you fail to approve or decline the opportunity on the partner site, you will be asked again on Facebook itself.  If no option is taken in two days it will assume you have no objections and publish the information to your News Feed.

These concessions seem minor in comparison to the privacy complaints being lodged by groups such as MoveOn.org.  The system still favors the concept that users are okay with this activity and in no way favor the users.

Advertising is a part of the Internet that will probably be with us until the end of days now, but the majority of it has been unobtrusive, and not potentially dangerous to the users of a site.  What if you get caught buying something potentially embarrassing, and because you forgot to opt out, your friends, co-workers, and employers all find out? 

In a quote in the New York Times, Chad Stoller of the advertising agency Organic said “Isn’t this community getting a little hypocritical?  Now, all of a sudden, they don’t want to share something?”  Mr. Stoller is of course implying all the pictures and other personal information that users put up on their Facebook accounts.  The problem with this reasoning is that all of those items are put their of the users own volition while Beacon is only somewhat of a choice at this point.

To me, the most disturbing portion of this whole thing is Facebook’s attitude.  In a separate interview with the New York Times, Chamath Palihapitiya, a vice president at Facebook, was asked if Beacon will over be “opt-in” as opposed to “opt-out”.  His reply, in short, was “We want people to try it, to see it in action. If they don’t like it they can easily turn it off. Our point of view is, let’s give people the ability to sample it.” 

The problem with this train of thought is that you really are assuming people want to try it, and you are requiring the users to exert effort to not try it.  You are also requiring them to exert that effort on every site that is involved in the program.  All of the effort, and inconvenience, falls to the user, your bread and butter.

Until opt-in becomes the rule of thumb with this system, expect to hear even more complaints about it over privacy concerns.

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