The Only Answer to Facebook Beacon is a Deleted Account

Marc Orchant, the other day, announced he was deleting his Facebook profile. For him, it came down to a matter of usefulness. I am considering also deleting my Facebook profile for completely different reasons – Facebook Beacon.

In case you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, Beacon is the program that Facebook marketed as a B2C advertising platform. Companies utilizing Beacon would benefit by automatically getting postings in the profile of a user utilizing the company’s website in some way, whether for purchase or otherwise. It was marketed to businesses as completely “opt-in” but as turned out to be exactly opposite.

The privacy concerns that have been demonstrated by the Beacon program is well documented. One guy bought his girlfriend a an engagement ring on Overstock.com and she found out about it by reading his Facebook profile where Overstock had posted this fact on the guy’s profile without him knowing. Personally, I’ve been dismayed to find my Gamefly activity documented as well as a car rental I purchased through Hotwire for later in the month.

Lots of people have proposed methods of “blocking” Beacon, but the fact is that whenever you are logged in, Beacon companies can (and will) post data to Facebook. Even if you opt to never show these details on your profile, Facebook still collects the data and quite possibly shares that demographic data with interested companies. Dare Obasanjo has detailed how broke Beacon really is

Awhile ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Art of War: Facebook’s Strategy for Ultimate Victory“. In that article, I outlined how I thought Facebook had made all the right decisions and as a result would eclipse MySpace and other social networks as the premiere network around.

I am taking that article back. Facebook has not only violated all sense of trust on this matter, but faced with the problems, they’ve only made matters worse. (Sidenote: If you have a few hours, go through these court docs and tell me at the end if you trust Mark Zuckerberg or find him to be completely slippery. Also read this lengthy “pieced together account” of Facebook’s origins).

The real question here is there any real way to opt out? I don’t think there is.

  1. The Privacy tab in Facebook – good for taking companies that use Beacon and that you’ve already engaged with out of a newsfeed – but what about future companies that I do business with?
  2. Companies still sending data to Facebook regardless of if I’ve turned the privacy level way down. What is Facebook actually doing with this data? Telling me that it will be deleted is not a good enough answer for me. Beacon should be opt-in ONLY at the Facebook AND vendor levels.
  3. The firefox extension for blocking sites. This is a good idea in principle but I shouldn’t have to do anything to maintain my own privacy!

To me, the only option here is deleting your Facebook profile – something I am very close to doing.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

5 thoughts on “The Only Answer to Facebook Beacon is a Deleted Account”

  1. Me too. I’m not using it much anymore anyway.

    And as I understand it, you don’t have to be logged into FB for them to collect data remotely. They can collect data anywhere they can read/drop a cookie (ad, image, js, etc.) Like across the MSN ad network for instance?

  2. Jordan, while that too is evil, it’s not as evil as personally identifiable information being collected and associated to me and then, tinfoil hat time, being sold on the open market?

  3. There’s also the issue of whether your information is really deleted, or its merely the appearance of such; the information officer in the UK is reviewing facebook for this very reason, as its so difficult to delete your account, and it may be a violation of one of its privacy acts.

  4. I don’t remember where I read it, but I heard that you can’t delete your account, you can only deactivate it. The hack around this seems to be to zero out the information contained to zero.
    (although I wonder if all those apps still have your numbers and data for eternity)

  5. Aaron, I’m confused. (No surprise there, eh?) — I read another post you wrote about Beacon, and you cited GameFly’s privacy policy, which seemed pretty clear. So…does Beacon violate GameFly’s policy or has GameFly violated their own policy by letting Beacon collect data about you and post it to your FB account? Or both?

    This really is disturbing. I understand the “openness” of the internet, but posting my purchasing habits on my FB account? Eek.

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