Like duct tape, The Force and seemingly everything else that’s holding my life together at the present moment, it appears that Facebook has a bit of a dark side. Well, it actually may not be that dark. It just seems like whenever a large corporation (or other agent of The Man) and privacy are involved and I have to choose between looking at the situation calmly and rationally or freaking out, well…I immediately reach for my tinfoil hat.
Facebook has made a lot of changes in the past month. The one that I’ve blogged about extensively here is Facebook Pages, which allows businesses or entities (like libraries) to create a page on Facebook that has much of the same functionality of a Facebook Profile. What I’ve not written about (or, frankly, thought about) until this moment are Facebook Beacon and Social Ads. Now, I understand that Facebook is a business and needs to make money. As with most Internet businesses, the way that they do that is through ads. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the method that generates these ads.
For you non-Facebookers, one of the things that I find most addictive about Facebook over MySpace is the “newsfeed.” This allows you to see actions that your friends are taking (e.g. who they’ve added as a friend, who they’re playing Scrabble with, what books they’re reading, etc.) You don’t have to visit each one of your friends profiles, either. It shows up when you first login to Facebook on your start page. (And actually, MySpace will be adding a similar feature soon.) If you didn’t want everyone on your friends list to see these actions, you could easily adjust your privacy settings so that they didn’t show up. Ever.
Remember that last bit…it’s important.
With Social Ads and Beacon, Facebook is providing code to its “partner sites” that will harvest information on your activities on these partner sites and then post it to your Facebook profile. So, for example, if I were to buy something on Overstock.com, soon would appear in my newsfeed “Sarah just bought X from Overstock.com.” From what I can gather, you can opt out of having the information posted, but only after it’s been posted. So, if my purchase from Overstock was a gift for someone on my friends list…oops! Suprise! And if it’s something that I may not want everyone on my friends list to know I purchased for personal reasons (if you know what I mean and I think you do wink wink nudge nudge)? Well, this could make that next faculty meeting kind of awkward.
Actually, it’s not commercial vendor type of partner sites that really bother me. (Although they do really bother me.) Also on the list of partner sites are the Six Apart blogging services. I know of several people on my friends list who maintain personal, anonymous blogs on these services that probably don’t want people to know that these blogs exist if they don’t already.
There is frustratingly little official information out there about Beacon. I can’t figure out how it knows the person that purchased the unmentionable item from Overstock is the person that has a Facebook profile. Is it from cookies on the computer? Similar login emails? Magic? I just don’t know! I also had a dickens of a time finding a list of the partner sites. Here’s what I’ve been able to find, thanks to this post that cites a Facebook press release:
- Bluefly.com (NASDAQ: BFLY)
- CBS Interactive (CBSSports.com & Dotspotter) (NYSE: CBS)
- eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY)
- IAC InterActiveCorp. (NASDAQ: IACI) sites (CollegeHumor, Busted Tees, iWon, Citysearch, Pronto.com, echomusic)
- Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE)’s Hotwire
- Live Nation (NYSE: LYV)
- National Basketball Association
- NYTimes.com (NYSE: NYT)
- Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK)
- Sony Online Entertainment LLC (NYSE: SNE)
- Sony Pictures (NYSE: SNE)
- STA Travel
- The Knot (NASDAQ: KNOT)
- Travel Ticker
I’ve also heard that Amazon is on there, but I can’t find any confirmation of that.
There’s also some potential legal issues involved, but instead of tackling that, I’m just going to link to this post on Concurring Opinions and let people more able to discuss it handle that.
ETA: I forgot the most important part…there is a way to block Beacon if you use Firefox. Here’s the details. I am worried, though, that this will just block the notification that something is being posted to Facebook instead of blocking the information gathering all together.
ETA Again: It looks like some groups are going to file a complaint with the FTC. This is getting interesting.
Filed under: facebook, privacy, Uncategorized | Tagged: facebook, privacy | 3 Comments »