Beacon, Hubris and Nemesis

Beacon’s “opt-out” policy was a clear example of hubris on the part of the folks at Facebook:

“There is no opting out of advertising,” Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said when the new ad programs were announced earlier this month.

But apparently there is . . .

The firestorm of controversy that surrounded the Beacon tracking program is what the Greek’s meant by “nemesis”: “to give what is due.” The belief that Facebook users’ would just live with the near-involuntary tracking and broadcasting of their non-Facebook actions and transactions was born of a sense of invulnerability and momentum that Facebook gained from its growth and its new $15 billion valuation.

But the controversy would not go away and so last night Facebook, under pressure, made changes to the program that make it an opt-in rather than an opt-out. That was the single biggest issue with the program. And that’s good news for users. As I’ve argued previously:

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.

Now with the program being an opt-in people will have to explicitly authorize the distribution of the information captured by Beacon. Many Facebook critics will not be entirely satisfied because the company is still tracking and capturing user behavior on those third-party sites. But the company has wisely done the right thing here, albeit because of heavy negative PR.

For more discussion, here’s my write up of the changes from SEL (which includes Facebook’s explanation of the changes) and here’s a nice overview of the changes from the New York Times’ Brad Stone.

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Facebook has reportedly raised another $60 million, bringing this latest round to $300 million. The WSJ’s Kara Swisher reports that the investor is Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing. Make that ka-ching!


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