Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, November 21, 2021

When it was pointed out how Facebook’s new Social Ads program likely is playing fast-and-loose with users’ privacy and consent, I considered the issue to be, ultimately, too abstract to faze the majority of Facebookers. As long as it didn’t detract from user experience, the behind-the-scenes swapping of sensitive demographic info between Facebook and other companies wouldn’t register.

Well, it turns out the process isn’t so behind-the-scenes, thanks to a marketing-feed app called Beacon:

The new program lets companies tap ongoing conversations by alerting users about friends’ activities through the feeds. About 40 Web sites have decided to embed a free tool from Facebook, known as a Beacon, to enable the marketing feeds.

The idea is that if users see a friend buy or do something, they’d take that action as an endorsement for a movie, a band or a soft drink.

But it also raises privacy concerns.

Mike Mayer, for instance, saw a feed item saying his boyfriend, Adam Sofen, just bought tickets to “No Country For Old Men” from movie-ticket vendor Fandango.

“What if I was seeing ‘Fred Claus’?” said Sofen, 28. “That would have been much more embarrassing. At least this was a prestigious movie.”

Embarrassment is one thing. But I’m betting these social-network butterflies would get even more peeved at the prospect of a spoiled surprise:

“People should be given much more of a notice, much more of an alert,” said Matthew Helfgott, 20, a college student who discovered his girlfriend just bought him black leather gloves from Overstock for Hanukkah. “She said she had no idea [information would be shared]. She said it invaded her privacy.”

This is what it’ll come down to: Dead-simple practical examples of what happens when your online persona is tracked. If Facebookers find out they can’t buy something — a present, a book, whatever — and not have their online friends find out indiscriminately, then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they’re going to start leaving the site.

I figured the online generation knew no boundaries in their disregard for personal disclosure, but this episode looks to be the virtual brick wall. Facebook is practically sabotaging itself out of relevance by sticking with this format, and I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t move quickly (i.e., the next few days) to start implementing opt-outs to quell this.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/21/2007 09:42:59 PM
Category: Internet, Advert./Mktg., Business
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3 Feedbacks »
  1. They already have opt-outs on a per-purchase or per-store basis. What they need is an *opt in*. And so far that’s what they’re refusing to do.

    Comment by Thud — 11/22/2007 @ 12:28:30 PM

  2. Good point. Although the opt-out seems barely token: A barely-noticable interstitial pop-up that disappears after 20 seconds, after which consent is assumed? They’re basically shoving this down their users’ throats.

    Comment by CT — 11/23/2007 @ 10:27:22 AM


    I had figured the Beacon backlash would prompt Facebook to overhaul its new Social Ads system within days, and that’s just what happened, as the social network has now implemented greater user controls for opting-in.
    What’s more, the compan…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 11/30/2007 @ 08:16:06 AM

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