Privacy group shines light on Facebook’s Beacon


22 Nov 2007

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Online privacy group MoveOn.org says that Facebook’s new social advertising campaign is a complete violation of user privacy because it monitors user activity on participating third-party sites.

The thought of having your every move tracked is unnerving. Not many people would say ‘yes’ to broadcasting every time they bought a book, rented a movie, made a bid on eBay, but this is essentially what Facebook’s new social advertising service Beacon does — unless you specifically tell it not to.

Essentially, participating third-party sites will have their product or service advertised by alerting the Facebook user’s friends through a newsfeed every time he or she makes a purchase.

“When you buy a book or movie online, or make a political contribution, do you want that information automatically shared with the world on Facebook?” asks MoveOn.org on its site.

“Most people would call that a huge invasion of privacy. Recently, however, Facebook began doing just that. People across the country saw private purchases they made on other sites displayed on their Facebook news feeds.”

In its online petition, MoveOn.org is calling on Facebook to disallow this kind of social advertising, saying that Beacon lets companies use Facebook users to endorse their products without the user’s explicit permission.

The problem lies in the fact that this is not an ‘opt-in’ service; users must specifically click on an agreement to opt out of this gathering of information. Otherwise, their visit to a participating website, complete with details of purchase are fed into their friends’ news feed.

In reply to MoveOn.org’s petition, Facebook said in an official statement: “We encourage feedback from our users on new products, but in this case the MoveOn.org-led group misrepresents how Facebook Beacon works.

“Beacon gives users an easy way to share relevant information from other sites with their friends on Facebook.”

Facebook CEO has referred to Beacon as a ‘trusted referral’, whereas many users may see it as another step towards Big Brother.

By Marie Boran

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