December 29, 2007

(Red) Facebook over Beacon Advertising Technology

Redfaced Face Book in climbdown over Beacon Advertising Technology

Introduction

Below I take a look at the ill fated initial attempt by Facebook to install an intrusive Advertising programme called Beacon onto its platform in a clear breach of privacy. From the examples below it seems clear that users of social networking sites will have to remain very vigilant if they are not to be exploited by the provider.  

Beacon Advertising Technology

Mark Zuckerberg the 23-year-old founder of Facebook, said the company had “made a lot of mistakes” in building its new Beacon technology. The Beacon technology sends messages when a Facebook user makes purchases on outside websites.

Beacon has proved the most controversial of several new money-making technologies launched by the social network site last month. Facebook has come under pressure to perfect a revenue model after a recent Microsoft investment valued the company at $15bn. (FT Kevin Allison December 6 2007)

In its original version the Beacon software would  broadcast a message  to a user’s friends automatically unless the user elected, within a certain amount of time, not to broadcast it.

Friends of a Facebook user who buys a book on Amazon.com, for example, may see a message about the purchase when they log onto Facebook. (FT Kevin Allison November 30 2007)

Internet Privacy

In the face of 50,000 complaints and the beginnings of a Move on campaign (details here) Facebook backed down . Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook would further tighten Beacon’s privacy controls by allowing users to opt out of the service altogether. Last year, users protested about breaches of privacyafter it introduced “News Feed”. This was a piece of software which allowed users to keep track of their friends’ actions on the site. Google became the next company to fall foul of user wrath at breaches of privacy:

On December 14, Google’s RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed reader application, Google Reader, introduced a new feature that lets you share posts with anyone in your Gmail or Gtalk contact list. The problem is that you don’t want to share some of these posts with your boss or maybe with your mother, or anyone in your list that you hardly speak to. And as if this is not enough, Google Reader provides no way to opt out of the feature short or deleting every item you’ve ever shared. (E Flux Media)

Google Blog Reader

Google responded in the following way on December 26: 

We'd hoped that making it easier to share with the people you chat with often would be useful and interesting, but we underestimated the number of users who were using the Share button to send stories to a limited number of people," said the blog. (ibid).

It is clear from these examples that users of social networking sites do have the power to change the way in which the institution concerned delivers its services. This is clear difference to the days of the centralised models of mass media which delivered products to audiences who had little or no interconnectivity with each other.  In this sense those companies seeking to ride the wave of Web 2.0 are required to be very responsive to their audiences stated needs otherwise they can easily evaporate into cyberspace.

In the EU we seem to have more protection from this sort of thing than in the US through a privacy directive:

The Directive is Directive 95/46/EC (as in the European Commission). The precedent is the “Safe Harbour” Agreement. This privacy Directive was meant to standardize the exchange of private information within the EU Member States. A significant aspect of the common market is the capacity of consumers to shop and purchase in other Member States. The need to permit private information to flow freely prompted the creation of the Directive, which set rather high (in the mind of a USA-based marketer) standards for the use of private information. (EU for US Blog)

Webliography 

CNET News on Zuckerberg apology

PC World on Beacon

ITN News on Facebook and Beacon

WickiHow How to Block Beacon on Facebook


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