Facebook Beacon and Hotwire Surprise

Most people don’t care about online privacy as a practical matter. If they’re polled in the abstract they express concern but their behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect that concern. Partly that’s because they don’t know when or how they’re being tracked.

Facebook Beacon has garnered a fair bit of criticism for its monitoring/tracking of user behavior and opt-out (rather than opt-in) character.

But this past weekend, I was somewhat disturbed to find it in action when I made a rental car reservation on Hotwire. I didn’t realize I was still signed in to Facebook and when I concluded the reservation, which was quite a bit cheaper than on other sites BTW, I saw the little Beacon icon show up in the lower right corner of my screen. Gotta shut that down before it disappears I immediately thought.

In many situations, I probably wouldn’t care if people knew I wrote a favorable restaurant review or saw a particular movie. But I don’t want people to know where I stay or that I’m renting particular cars in particular places and so on. It’s this blanket tracking and data capture that creates all the privacy objections and problems — and potential spam in the newsfeeds.

The tool would be much more valuable to everyone if it could be made more selective (perhaps categories of activities that I don’t mind sharing, etc.). However, Facebook makes it a case-by-case opt-out because virtually no one would do it if it were an opt-in; and the value of the Beacon program for advertisers would be severely limited accordingly.

9 Responses to “Facebook Beacon and Hotwire Surprise”

  1. Ahmed Farooq Says:

    I personally find this pretty damn disgusting.

    Just based on human decency – unless I am willing to disclose what I’m buying, it simply is none of your business.

  2. zippy Says:

    Greg, your own site takes control of the viewer’s browser! Clicking on your blog entries’ links takes you out to the linked page, from where you can keep exploring the linked site–but always within screenwerk.com. Some people say that’s a no-no.

    You write, “I didn’t realize I was still signed in to Facebook”. I have often screamed at my browser, “I didn’t realize I was still signed in to Screenwerk.com” !

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    That’s not something I’m intentionally doing. It must be a wordpress thing.

  4. zippy Says:

    Screenwerk is hosted on wordpress.com, but wherever you/they registered the domain (probably GoDaddy — they’re famous for this) has provided your blog with a Domain Mask. It’s a frameset that masks all URLs you click on so that you don’t see the actual destination address in your browser. It’s not 100% white hat/kosher, because YOU are controlling MY browser. I’m sure that it’s unintentional on your part – otherwise I’d have to agree with Ahmed that “it’s pretty damn disgusting.”!

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    Registered the domain at Yahoo and have just been lazy in porting over to my own host. Don’t think what you’re describing happens with firefox.

  6. firefox user Says:

    Greg-

    The thing zippy is describing about the URL always staying as ‘www.screenwerk.com’ is true even when using Firefox. Many times I look at the url after clicking a link from your site only to realize it still says your url. Kind of annoying but I live with it. Keep up your good coverage and blog stories.

    Thanks.

  7. zippy Says:

    Actually, I don’t have a problem with screenwerk keeping me in its space. As a frequent reader, I think it probably helps me navigate the content I came for.

    I also think it’s a fair strategy. A publisher of any kind of content naturally wants to help people/readers stay in his or her publication/blog where the readers chose to start out from, and which they want to get back to to discover more new informational links that a good blog like this provides them.

  8. Greg Sterling Says:

    How strange. I’ll have to address the problem.

  9. Beacon, Hubris and Nemesis « Screenwerk Says:

    […] firestorm of controversy that surrounded the Beacon tracking program is what the Greek’s meant by “nemesis”: “to give what is due.” The […]

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