Zuckerberg, Quit Insulting Our Intelligence

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook has taken one more step in the Beacon war. As we’ve noted, Facebook is wrong to not fully make Beacon an opt-in program, partner companies are wrong for releasing customer data to Facebook and by the way I made a Firefox extension that will help consumers know when they are on a site that is using Beacon technology and will send data about their customers to Facebook, regardless of whether the consumer has a Facebook account or have the program turned off.

So, back to Zuckerberg. Mark posted an entry today on the Facebook blog apologizing for Beacon, admitting that the program was mismanaged from the start and that the response to the outcry were abysmal:

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users.

Zuckerberg continues on to outline how to turn off Beacon altogether – and that’s where this is still breaking down. First, Beacon is still “opt-out”. That is, users still have to proactively turn the “feature” off. I’m guessing that most Facebook users are not paying attention to this whole Beacon uprising, and thus probably have no idea that there is something that can be turned off and how it would be turned off. The majority of Facebook users, I’d venture, are purely using the site to keep up with their circle of people. No one is paying attention to these higher-level issues – something I admit I’m disappointed in as I think these issues affect all users.

The reality is that Beacon is damaged goods and I will be surprised if partners don’t continue to drop the technology. It’s a huge mistake to send data to Facebook and let Facebook determine if the user 1) exists or 2) has not opted-out.

Someone I talked to recently described Facebook and Beacon as, “[Facebook] is like inviting the devil into your home by accident and now [Beacon] is seen as angel of death.”

No, despite Facebook’s steps to “right the wrong”, they have not gone far enough. At the very least, they need to make it completely opt-in and let their marketing department “sell” opting-in to their users. In an ideal world, Beacon is completely abandoned – something that might very well happen if the backlash doesn’t stop soon.

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.