Click here to opt-in to this post

So the Facebook Beacon privacy train continues to careen down the tracks, braking hard in the turns and doing its best not to come flying off the rails altogether. Already, some of the passengers — including Coca-Cola, a large maker of carbonated sugar-water that you may have heard of — have jumped off the train, saying they aren’t sure that Facebook can salvage the idea and actually produce anything of value for them.

One of the issues for both New York Times writer Louise Story and for Coca-Cola, apparently, is whether Beacon was originally supposed to be — or is now — an “opt in” service. According to her post on the Bits blog, Ms. Story thought Mark Zuckerberg promised it would be opt in, and apparently Coca-Cola got that impression too. To further confuse the issue, Ms. Story now believes that Facebook has changed it to be opt in, but Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider says that isn’t the case.

As I understand it now, Facebook captures your information through a tracking cookie, and will show you what it has captured when you log in to the site, and then ask you whether you want that data to be sent out to your friends through your news feed. That sounds pretty much like an opt-in service to me — but not to everyone. Some say it’s only opt-in if there’s a global “yes I want you to track my info” button somewhere. Mark Zuckerberg seems to feel that by signing up for Facebook, you have effectively opted-in to that idea.

So was Beacon supposed to be opt-in to begin with? According to Ms. Story, her understanding was that Facebook would give users the ability to opt in before releasing their data — but as far as we can tell from the comments made by him and by a Facebook spokesman, they actually meant the opposite: that users would get the ability to opt out, by saying they didn’t want to broadcast the information. If they didn’t opt out, in other words, they had effectively opted in. Confused yet?

About all we know at this point is that Facebook is tangled in a rat’s nest of who said what, and who meant what, and the chorus of criticism is growing louder. As Hank mentions, Moveon’s petition is one thing, but when a major customer like Coca-Cola thinks you’re playing fast and loose with what you promised to do, then you have problems.

7 thoughts on “Click here to opt-in to this post

  1. @ Mathew…with respect, you aren't “getting” how the Facebook Opt-In works – its irrelevant what you do as a user, the data still goes back to Facebook anyway. We suspected it, the CA Security team proved it last night – the question for you now, is do you trust them to do the honourable thing with your data?

    (Blogged our thoughts here, links to the CA and various other stories)

    • Thanks, Alan — I get that. Maybe I didn't make it clear in the post,
      but I understand that Facebook still collects the data. Personally, I
      don't really care. Microsoft tracks my Web activity too, and so do
      lots of other browser toolbars and plugins.

      And what is “the honourable thing they should do with my data?” I
      couldn't care less if they come up with some behavioural profile of me
      based on my browsing behaviour — in fact, if that stops them (or
      other sites) from serving me wildly inappropriate ads, then I'm all
      for it.

      • Hi Mathew, I understand where you are coming from with this, but I'm sure there are vulnerable Facebook users out there that do not realise half of what their actions could lead to. Everyone tries to collect data about everyone on the Internet. It could become a dangerous thing when it happens, even if you thought it wouldn't. And the moment that data needs to be monetised, I don't think I would trust the one collecting.
        But, I still think this is all part of a much more fundamental issue. Facebook has gotten their business model wrong. Providing a service for free and getting the revenues via advertisement (basic web 2.0) only works as a business model if the advertisement actually provides the user value. That is why Google takes 75% of the advertisement market. They provide value when they attach advertisment to search. SocialAds and beacons on the other hand aren't meant to provide value to the user. It is a value driver for the advertiser. So the business model is fuelled from the wrong side. It makes Facebook a walled garden service trying to leverage network value instead of user value. And where Facebook is stuck on their own platform, Google works in a slightly different walled garden. It's called the entire web 😉

        • I think you're right, Alexander — and that's an important
          distinction. It's likely that more people would see Beacon as a
          worthwhile tradeoff if they actually felt they were getting something
          out of it, but instead it feels like they are just being taken
          advantage of — which of course they are.

      • I think tahst exactly it – where is the “honourable thing” line to be drawn. My view is that Facebook is just the vehicle that is pushing the deabate about where the line between privacy and useful data capture lies.

        I think to an extent if people trust you they will shift the line your way, but if they lose trust – as in Facebook's case imho – then they start to retract that line.

        Overall though I sense that Europeans (in general) are more concerned about privacy, for eg if you look at the difference in the EU vs US Data Protection laws – so this will be an interesting battleground as well.

        I also believe that youth do not value privacy as much, but that may be more due to naivete than any major cultural shift.

  2. I think you're right, Alexander — and that's an important
    distinction. It's likely that more people would see Beacon as a
    worthwhile tradeoff if they actually felt they were getting something
    out of it, but instead it feels like they are just being taken
    advantage of — which of course they are.

  3. I think tahst exactly it – where is the “honourable thing” line to be drawn. My view is that Facebook is just the vehicle that is pushing the deabate about where the line between privacy and useful data capture lies.

    I think to an extent if people trust you they will shift the line your way, but if they lose trust – as in Facebook's case imho – then they start to retract that line.

    Overall though I sense that Europeans (in general) are more concerned about privacy, for eg if you look at the difference in the EU vs US Data Protection laws – so this will be an interesting battleground as well.

    I also believe that youth do not value privacy as much, but that may be more due to naivete than any major cultural shift.

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