Facebook Users Flip on Beacon: Lesson in Social Community Ethics

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So, you’re the largest growing social media site and you think you can do whatever you want and users won’t care? Think again Facebook. When you create a community as big as Facebook which is its own little “country” online, it’s a democracy.

Some 50k plus Facebook users have signed a “…signed an online petition blasting the system, called “Beacon,” as a galling intrusion that put the Palo Alto-based startup’s pursuit of profit ahead of its members’ privacy interests,” reports FoxNews.com.

Foxnews.com also reports, “Facebook provided two different opportunities to block the details from being shared, but many users said they never saw the “opt-out” notices before they disappeared from the screen.”

I am a Facebook user and I’ve never seen any opt-out message about this. Do I mind Facebook uses my information for monetization purposes for advertisers? No. I understand its main source of revenue actually comes from advertising.

We saw this with Digg a few months back when diggers became outraged at the fact that a story exposing a dvd code hit the front page and was about to be pulled. Users want two things from their community.

1. Democratic Community
2. Privacy

Are Facebook Ads actually imposing on user privacy? No. Users voluntarily input their information onto the site to create a profile and share it with friends. No fields are required. Now, there may be other privacy issues with Facebook tracking user activity on other website, that’s another issue.

More than 40 different Web sites, including Fandango.com, Overstock.com and Blockbuster.com, had embedded Beacon in their pages to track transactions made by Facebook users.

Unless instructed otherwise, the participating sites alerted Facebook, which then notified a user’s friends within the social network about items that had been bought or products that had been reviewed.

Facebook thought the marketing feeds would help its users keep their friends better informed about their interests while also serving as “trusted referrals” that would help drive more sales to the sites using the Beacon system.

But thousands of Facebook users viewed the Beacon referrals as a betrayal of trust. Critics blasted the advertising tool as an unwelcome nuisance with flimsy privacy protections that had already exasperated and embarrassed some users.”

Facebook should not track activity outside of Facebook. Any user will feel privacy is violated once outside the network and feel stalked. Facebook is now promising users will have to give Facebook consent before any information is passed.

Pablo Palatnik is Managing Partner of eTrend Media Group, which specializes in Pay-Per-Click Management & Social Media Marketing.

Pablo Palatnik
Pablo Palatnik is the author of the blog PalatnikFactor, focusing on all things Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization specialist for Fortune3, a shopping cart... Read Full Bio
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  • ptamaro

    I’m also a Facebook user as well, and I do like some of the new features that they and others have added to it recently. Your points about communities (online and offline) are right on target: maintaining a democratic community, and privacy are imperative to long-term success for everyone. I don’t recall seeing the opt-out messaging either, and I generally don’t mind ads when they are relevant to context…

  • Michael Lodispoto

    Facebook is Ok but how can they maintain a Democratic community and still do what they want? Let’s say 75% of Facebook users ( I was one but no longer) hate being bothered and watched all the time and every second. We all tell them to cut it out, but they can’t exist withoutthis or that program. Howcan they stop then? That’s like asking Google to stop penalizing PayperPost people and those that ‘sell’ links when in fact that is how they make money.
    You are right saying it is a betrayal of trust, but then again these large companies and sites don’t care until masses of people leave.

  • Bashar

    They got it coming to them. They email me every time a user sends a message or does anything, yet they don’t tell me they will share my information with search engines, or just display an opt-out box in a non-trivial way for 20 seconds. Why? Why not email to opt-in? Because you know people won’t like it.