Facebook users share a multitude of personal details on their Facebook profiles. This is not news.
So what went wrong with Beacon that created such a public outcry over privacy concerns?
Beacon was implemented by Facebook as a “Business Solution” in early November of this year. The Beacon Facebook page reads “Enable your customers to share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends” and provides a brief overview of the program including what it entails and how it works. It encourages businesses to sign up for the program by adding only “3 lines of code” to their website.
An explanation of how the Beacon application works (for IT junkies only) can be found here.
Approximately 60 business who signed up for Beacon, including blockbuster.com and overstock.com, were given a direct link to advertise a purchase made by a Facebook user in his or her news feed. When a user made a purchase on a Beacon user website, an “opt out” option briefly appeared at the bottom right hand of the screen. If you missed the opt out clause, as so many Facebook users did, Beacon advertised your purchase by sharing it with all your Facebook friends in you news feed.
The Washington City Paper reported one story in which a user’s “diamond ring purchase [was advertised] to hundreds of classmates, friends, and coworkers—not to mention the ring’s intended recipient, his wife].” As a result, users began to feel both an invasion of privacy and a loss of control over their information.
This prompted the moveon.org petition and in response, Facebook’s change to make Beacon an “opt in” system instead of an “opt out” system. But the public outcry continued, Facebook users continued to feel betrayed by the social networking site which had built its reputation on protecting user privacy.
Then came Mark Zuckerberg’s formal apology. The apology posted on Facebook’s blog, explains that Facebook “missed the right balance” between making Beacon “lightweight” and “easily controllable”. It further states the length of time with which Facebook responded to the problem “took too long”. As a further mechanism of information control, and perhaps in an attempt to demonstrate Facebook is still committed to privacy, the apology informs users that a privacy setting has been added allowing Facebook users to turn Beacon off entirely.
But is this enough to assure users that Facebook’s once abundantly clear objectives and commitments to its users remain in tact? Or is Beacon a warning to users that Facebook’s once committed attitude to user privacy is changing?
A user must agree to permit a Platform Application to access his or her data before an application may be downloaded. Facebook enters into an agreement with the Platform Developer which “requires them to respect [user] privacy settings and strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of [user] information”. This agreement is not available online for review,
But that’s not all, the policy further warns that “Platform Developers may require you to sign up to their own terms of service, privacy policies or other policies, which may give them additional rights or impose additional obligations on [the user]”. Any “suspected misuse” by the Platform Developers may be reported to Facebook for appropriate action.
We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agenciesFacilitating Business:
The examples listed of methods in which Facebook facilitates business include:
· send out email updates about Facebook
· remove repetitive information from our user lists
· process payments for products or services
· offer an online job application process
· provide search results or links (including sponsored links)
- Annie Noa Kenet, Toronto