Friday, 07 December 2007 03:32

Facebook backs off on Beacon - sort of

Facebook has reworked its controversial Beacon advertising system in the wake of privacy complaints, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologising for a "bad job".

"We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them", he said, suggesting his concern was more about spin than the underlying privacy issues.

Beacon reveals details of purchases and other transactions made on any of more than 40 affiliated sites (notably and to the user's friends. While the company provided an opt-out mechanism, it was not fail-safe and users did not always get the choice to opt-out if they moved quickly to another web page.

More than 50,000 Facebook users signed an online petition complaining about Beacon, and organisations including the Center for Digital Democracy and took up the issue.

This week's changes mean Facebook users must now explicitly opt-in to Beacon before such transactions appear in their profiles.

A CA researcher has alleged that Beacon transfers information from affiliate sites to Facebook in circumstances contrary to the company's stated policies.

There is no indication that has changed, even though Zuckerberg said "today we're releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely."

It seems that the only thing Facebook has changed is the circumstances in which transactions will be added to profiles - apparently exactly the same information is sent by affiliates to Facebook regardless of whether the user has opted in or out of Beacon. Information is provided to Facebook even if the user is not a Facebook member.

According to Zuckerberg, when users suppress Beacon "Facebook won't store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook."

That falls a long way short of being able to turn Beacon off completely, which is what Zuckerberg knows people want to be able to do.

Ah, monetisation...

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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