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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

With Beacon, Facebook is not the problem

Unless you live under a rock (or don’t follow the social space) you know that there has been a big uproar of Facebook’s Beacon.  This is the feature that enables 3rd party web sites to transmit your actions (or “stories” in Facebook lingo) to Facebook. 

If you want to know more about how it works, Jay Goldman wrote the excellent post: Deconstructing Facebook Beacon JavaScript.  The title belies the fact that the article gives a good overview too (it isn’t just for developers).

An innovative idea — one that reminds me much of the GestureBank work conceived by Steve Gillmor and myself.  Given that, it should be no surprise that I don’t think Facebook did anything “evil” here. 

Now, they could have done a better job with it.  From the get-go, I would have preferred if they had

  • been more public about how it works; and
  • required that users “opt-in” to the whole program.

Not surprisingly, there was a backlash and Facebook made some changes (Official- Facebook Flips On Beacon).  Great.  I don’t think what they did violated their user contract, but the changes are more user-friendly.  I would prefer my User Aware contract, though this is a User Beware contract (User Contracts – Part II- User Beware). 

But, the problem isn’t with Facebook or their user contract.  If you don’t like the service (in total), don’t use it.

What I don’t understand is all the focus on Facebook here.  Like all silos they are capturing data, data, data.  That is what Facebook is all about.  

Why isn’t the focus on the 3rd parties who submit your stories?  They are the ones pouring user stories into Facebook. There have been reports of users not having approved their stories.  This is a bad thing, and maybe a technical flaw in Beacon, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the 3rd party to protect your data.

They should give the users control over their Beacon settings:

  1. Never send stories to Facebook
  2. Approve each story before it is sent to Facebook.
  3. Always send stories to Facebook.

If anything, Facebook should require this of its Beacon partners.

So, why aren’t people up in arms over the eBays, TripAdvisors, Yelps, Fandangos, Epicureans, etc.?

But, hey, if you don’t like the way these sites are spraying your data over the Internet, then stop using them.  

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1 Comment »

    Donut wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Your conclusion doesn’t answer the other points you stated in your assumptions and discussion. Evil it is not, ethically dubious I would argue yes!

The issue is, if you opt out of one site, your details are passed to another. Does one have the right to be up in arms about Facebook. I’d say yes. With the partner sites they are as equally as bad. But, even if you opt out Facebook still get the information to use internally. For this reason it has created the uproar.

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